Sprint/T-Mobile US merger could open up US to Chinese “ecosystem,” according to former House Intelligence Committee chairman

As federal regulator review the proposed mega-merger between carriers Sprint and T-Mobile US, criticism has largely come in the form of concerns about potential impacts on consumer choice and pricing, as well as workforce impacts. Now a new 501c4 non-profit called Protect America’s Wireless is raising the alarm around how a Sprint/T-Mobile US merger could potentially open the U.S. up to Chinese efforts toward “data dominance,” according to Mike Rogers, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Protect America’s Wireless hosted a press call on Nov. 5. David Wade, founder of Greenlight Strategies, said the group was part of a larger organization called the Consumer Choice Alliance. He said the two groups would engage in “parallel efforts” but declined to disclose ownership and funding details.

Wade singled out concerns posed by China and Saudi Arabia in his comments. He said transactions involving “critical infrastructure…can become a proxy to debate other important issues.” As 5G is deployed, “You’re going to have legitimate debates about American foreign policy.”

Rogers wrote an October 2012 report titled “Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE.” He traced his particular interest in Huawei and ZTE back to 2004 when Cisco and Huawei were engaged in a court proceeding regarding the former’s accusation that the latter stole product source code and other proprietary information.

“That got me interested,” Rogers said. What were they doing, what were they up to? Over time our intelligence services were certainly sending up flares of caution.” He described his 2012 report as “prett damning, candidly. It was concerning enough that the activity that you see today in the United States government reflects that classified version” of the report.

This year lawmakers have locked Huawei and ZTE out of government contracts and cited the two companies in a leaked plan for a nationalized 5G network, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has publicly mulled cutting off funding for rural operators that use equipment from the two companies. Further, ZTE temporarily shut down operations based on a violation of U.S. economic sanctions; the penalty imposed cut off access to components made in the U.S.

Rogers pointed to moves from Australian leaders to block Huawei and ZTE from participating in 5G deployments, as well as concerns aired by an oversight body in the United Kingdom. “We have to understand that there’s an ecosystem that the Chinese government is using to accumulate data. I do have some concern with Softbank’s connection to Huawei. That, to me, should raise a red flag.”

Softbank, which is the majority owner of Sprint, has worked with Huawei on a number of 5G-related projects, including on demonstrating enterprise 5G use cases and developing connected robotics solutions. Deutsche Telekom is the primary owner of T-Mobile US.

Rogers said that in China, “Anybody that handles data…must provide that information to the Chinese government. That doesn’t happen by itself. It happens in an ecosystem. And Huawei and ZTE are a big par t of that.”


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