The FCC’s approval of a bundle of supply chain security items at its Nov. 19 meeting will result in the collection of valuable data regarding the presence of suspect telecom equipment nationwide and will help inform the debate about the costs of replacing the equipment, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told a Senate committee today.
“We have to understand where it is before we decide what dollars we make available to help rip and replace it,” Commissioner Rosenworcel told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Testifying at a hearing titled “Supply Chain Security, Global Competitiveness, and 5G,” Ms. Rosenworcel noted that the cost of replacing the equipment was estimated at between $700 million and $1 billion. Congress is considering legislation that would help carriers foot the bill.
Many rural carriers have relied on networking equipment from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. because of those suppliers’ competitive prices and experience with rural telecom networks. But the China-based companies are suspected of being controlled by the Chinese government, and their growing share of the market for 5G network equipment is viewed by U.S. policy-makers as a national security threat if the Chinese government chose to use the equipment for surveillance or to disrupt critical infrastructure.
The FCC is planning to vote next month on an order that would bar recipients of Universal Service Fund (USF) support from purchasing equipment and services from vendors deemed to present a national security threat and would designate Huawei and ZTE as threats.
An accompanying further notice of proposed rulemaking would seek input on a “remove and replace” proposal for equipment supplied by newly prohibited vendors that is already installed in the networks of USF recipients and a draft information collection proposal would seek data from carriers about the extent to which Huawei and ZTE equipment is already in their networks and how much it would cost to remove and replace it (TR Daily, Oct. 29).
Asked by Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), the committee’s ranking member, whether there was a database showing where Huawei and ZTE equipment was deployed, Commissioner Rosenworcel said, “There is not right now.”
“It is my hope that with this [FCC supply chain] proceeding we can develop one. We know we need to. Much of this equipment lies next to military bases in this country. It’s insecure, and we need to move it out,” she said.
“We have to start with this rulemaking and make some assessments about it and work with this committee to identify what our priorities should be,” she added. “But I think we can all agree that our goal is to take this equipment out of our networks.”
Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), indicated that replacement of the equipment could take place over 18-24 months starting with any deployments that seemed to pose an unusual national security threat.
“We need to look and understand where the risk truly is and focus our efforts there, particularly if we’re talking about federal resources,” Mr. Krebs told the committee. “We’re not talking about pulling all this stuff out tomorrow.”
Mr. Krebs noted that some of the equipment might be nearing the end of its lifecycle and require replacement anyway, a point echoed by Robert Strayer, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary-cyber and international communications and information policy.
“Any technology that’s in the networks pre-2016 has to be replaced anyway,” Mr. Strayer testified. He said it might not be necessary to replace equipment supporting 4G networks but that insecure equipment should be kept out of 5G networks. “When we move to 5G the risk profile changes dramatically.”
Mr. Strayer said the State Department was making progress in persuading allied nations to restrict the deployment of insecure equipment in their 5G networks. But Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) informed him that she recently traveled to India and learned that the Indian government was planning a one-year 5G pilot with Huawei.
“The country is seriously considering using Huawei’s infrastructure for India’s 5G rollout,” Sen. Hassan said. “Moreover, many of our European allies who are ordinarily concerned with transparency and data privacy are still considering incorporating Huawei devices into their 5G infrastructure.”
“It doesn’t seem that our partners are listening” to U.S. policy-makers’ warnings about Chinese equipment, she said. “So what else should we be doing?”
Mr. Strayer suggested that she and other lawmakers engage their overseas counterparts directly on the issue and ensure that the debate focuses on human rights and values and not just technology. He noted that some nations were finding themselves caught between the U.S. and China and were unsure what to do.
“There’s other concerns these countries have that include kind of coercive measures that the Chinese can use against them” if they avoid using Chinese gear, he said. —Tom Leithauser, [email protected]
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