FCC Could Expand Ban on Huawei and ZTE

We have been following closely the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to stop the use of taxpayer funds to support equipment manufactured by covered companies which are known as national security threats, notably Huawei or ZTE.  Last November, the FCC unanimously voted to ban Universal Service Fund monies for the purchase of Huawei and ZTE equipment. this ban became effective on January 3rd.  This welcome step may only be the first; a public comment period on the rule suggests the agency may further restrict Chinese equipment from U.S. networks. This could include requiring USF recipients to remove and replace equipment from covered companies as well as to collect information to determine to what extent products and services from such covered companies exist in networks.

Specifically, on the day the rule into effect, the FCC announced a 30-day comment period on proposals for “additional actions to address national security threats.”  The wording of the comment notice as well as the original Final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking hints the agency is open to going further than the rule in its current form in blocking Huawei and ZTE:

“[S]hould the Commission go further and prohibit the use of equipment or services from covered companies in communications networks more broadly? We seek comment on whether the Commission can and should prohibit any communications company from purchasing, obtaining, maintaining, improving, modifying, or otherwise supporting any equipment or services produced or provided by a covered company posing a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or the communications supply chain, regardless of whether they use universal service support [subsidies] to do so.” FCC FNPRM, 11/22

If Huawei and ZTE are national security threats, as government agencies and Congress have concluded, then their influence should be minimized as much as possible. Huawei and ZTE equipment pose the same dangers to carriers’ customers, whether or not these carriers receive government subsidies. There are real costs to removing this existing infrastructure from networks, but as Strand Consult has documented, the costs of ripping and replacing Huawei equipment have been greatly exaggerated.

Informed commenters should weigh in and urge the FCC to stay on its present course of preventing hostile actors from compromising U.S. telecommunications networks.