Pai looking to secure “networks and their supply chains,” in latest move against Huawei

Ajit Pai, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, on Monday announced he would propose a new rule designed to “help protect security of U.S. communications networks and their supply chains.”

According to a March 23 Wall Street Journal report, “people familiar with the matter” said the FCC could move to further bite at Huawei’s domestic sales by creating a rule that would cut off Universal Service Fund (USF) dollars to small and rural carriers that use network infrastructure gear provided by the Chinese technology powerhouse.

The USF is a subsidy program designed to underwrite deployment of broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. A Huawei USA rep recently told RCR Wireless News that the company has approximately 20 engagements with operators in the U.S., including Union Wireless.

Pai essentially confirmed the Wall Street Journal repot on Monday.  “Threats to national security posed by certain communications equipment providers are a matter of bipartisan concern,” he said in a statement. “Hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches—and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment—can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more.  Although the FCC alone can’t safeguard the integrity of our communications supply chain, we must and will play our part in a government- and industry-wide effort to protect the security of our networks.

“That’s why I’m proposing to prohibit the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund from being used to purchase equipment or services from any company that poses a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or their supply chains.  The money in the Universal Service Fund comes from fees paid by the American people, and I believe that the FCC has the responsibility to ensure that this money is not spent on equipment or services that pose a threat to national security.  On April 17, I hope that my fellow Commissioners will join me in supporting this important proposal to help protect our national security.”

There are bills in the U.S. House and Senate that, if approved, would officially prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing any gear from Huawei or ZTE, another Chinese network infrastructure, device and technology OEM.

In addition to the companion bills, lawmakers have recently flexed muscle to get AT&T, Verizon and Best Buy to drop agreements with Huawei to resell smartphones.

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