The Senate today passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (HR 4998), which would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Reimbursement Program to assist communications providers with the costs of removing and replacing prohibited equipment and services from their networks.
The House passed the bill in December, so today’s vote sends the measure to President Trump.
The FCC last fall prohibited carriers from using Universal Service Fund support to purchase equipment from “covered carriers” that the agency has deemed present a national security threat to communications networks and designated Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. as covered companies (TR Daily, Nov. 22, 2019). HR 4998 would codify the USF prohibition.
The bill calls for the FCC to create and periodically update the list of prohibited equipment and services.
The Secure and Trusted Communications Reimbursement Program would fund reimbursements for companies that have fewer than 2 million customers.
The Congressional Budget Office “expects that eligible communications providers would request about $800 million in reimbursements over the 2021-2025 period and about $200 million after 2025,” it said in an assessment of the cost of the legislation (TR Daily, Feb. 7). The bill directs the FCC to notify Congress if it determines at any time that $1 billion “will not be sufficient to fully fund all approved applications for reimbursements under the Program.”
The bill also directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the director of national intelligence, to establish a program to share information about supply chain security risks “with trusted providers of advanced communications service and trusted suppliers of communications equipment or services.”
In a statement after the vote today, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) who introduced the Senate companion of the bicameral, bipartisan bill, said, “Telecommunications equipment from certain foreign adversaries poses a significant threat to our national security, economic prosperity, and the future of U.S. leadership in advanced wireless technology. By establishing a ‘rip and replace’ program, this legislation will provide meaningful safeguards for our communications networks and more secure connections for Americans. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for coming together to help move this bill to the President’s desk.”
NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said, “NTCA supports effective steps to manage risks in our national communications networks and is pleased that the bill rightly recognizes the need to ensure providers using equipment subsequently found to present such risks have the resources to remove and replace prohibited equipment.”
Competitive Carriers Association President and CEO Steve Berry said, “I commend the Senate for passing the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. CCA members care deeply about network security, and this legislation provides much-needed guidance to all carriers, and importantly, resources to replace covered network elements. This is a significant milestone to address security issues identified by Congress and the Administration. I thank the Senate for its action to send this bill to the President’s desk for enactment, and commend the leadership of Chairman Pallone, Chairman Wicker, and several other leading members of Congress to advance this important legislation.”
In a statement, Rural Wireless Association, Inc., said it is “pleased that Congress has passed a new law authorizing up to $1 billion in funding to small rural carriers with fewer than 2 million subscribers so that these service providers may replace their Huawei and ZTE network equipment. The passage of this legislation is an important first step in securing the communications network supply chain.”
RWA noted that the FCC’s decision to block the use of universal service support for equipment supplied by Huawei and ZTE “will take full effect soon. The passage of this legislation comes at a critical time. Without this crucial funding, rural carriers would lack the financial means to effectuate rapid replacement of the banned equipment.”
“RWA acknowledges the valiant effort made by Congress to ensure the continuous operation of rural networks while protecting national security. Now with a funding mechanism almost in place, rural carriers can begin planning for the removal of banned Chinese equipment from their networks. RWA now awaits President Trump’s signature for official enactment of the legislation and the appropriation of funds to ensure a path forward,” RWA added.
Telecommunications Industry Association CEO David Stehlin called the bill “a critical step in securing our network and ensuring the integrity of the telecommunications supply chain as we usher in the 5G era. TIA applauds this decisive action to support efforts for the replacement of equipment that raises national security risks with equipment from trusted suppliers. By passing the Act, Congress is also sending a clear signal to the global industry that the U.S. will continue to lead the way on 5G security.”
Mr. Stehlin added, “TIA will continue to expedite its Supply Chain Security program which is developing industry-driven standards, measurements, and benchmarking that form a consistent, common, and accepted set of global requirements that ensure the integrity of the ICT [information and communications technology] supply chain and enable new technologies to reach their potential.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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