House bill aims to secure telecom networks against foreign interference

The bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday introduced legislation that would ban the use of federal funds to purchase telecommunications equipment from companies deemed national security threats.

The Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to compile a list of companies deemed by federal authorities outside the agency as posing national security risks to telecom networks.

The bill is sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), along with Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.).

“America’s wireless future depends on our networks being secure from malicious foreign interference,” the sponsors said in a joint statement. “Our telecommunications companies rely heavily on equipment manufactured and provided by foreign companies that, in some cases, as with companies such as Huawei and its affiliates, can pose a significant threat to America’s commercial and security interests.”

The bill is the latest attempt to address threats posed by Chinese telecommunications group Huawei, and comes after President Trump issued an executive order in May aimed at securing the supply chain of telecommunications networks. The Commerce Department also added Huawei to its “entity list” in May, citing national security concerns. U.S. companies are banned from doing business with groups on this list. 

Trump however threw Huawei’s inclusion on this list into question in June when he announced U.S. companies may be allowed to do business with Huawei in cases not deemed a threat to national security.

The lawmakers also noted the need to assist small and rural wireless providers to root out “suspect network equipment and replace it with more secure equipment,” emphasizing that “we must get this done to protect our national security.” 

In order to address threats to small and rural communications providers, the bill includes $1 billion for fiscal 2020 to fund a program to help those providers move away from equipment that could pose security threats.

Under the legislation, the FCC would be required to establish a “Secure and Trusted Network Reimbursement Program,” with the $1 billion being used by this program to assist communications providers with two million or less customers to replace suspect telecom equipment.

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