Members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee expressed concerns today about the security of 5G networks, especially due to Chinese telecom vendor Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.
Lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing, the committee’s first of the 116th Congress, also discussed a myriad of other topics, including the importance of making additional spectrum, especially mid-band frequencies, available to carriers; the need to ensure that coverage maps are accurate before the FCC holds an auction for Mobility Fund Phase II support and that rural communities don’t get left behind in the deployment of 5G services; the use of the 5.9 gigahertz band; planned efforts to work on comprehensive privacy legislation; and whether RF emissions from small cells pose a danger to those who live near them.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), ranking member of the committee, said in her opening statement that “in the push for 5G, we need to make sure we’re not blind to some of the very important policy issues. Put simply, 5G networks must be secure, and that starts with having a cybersecurity strategy that focuses on shoring up our defense against hackers and state-sponsored actors of cyberterrorism.
“Protecting national security means making sure that America’s economy is strong and that we remain a global leader. Cybersecurity is one thing I wish I would have heard more from the President on last night,” said Ms. Cantwell, referring to the State of the Union address.
“So, a few things that I think we need to think about. First, we must be certain that there is a secure supply chain backing up our 5G system. We cannot tolerate a leaky valve or a back-door into these networks,” Sen. Cantwell added. “Second, the administration should provide us with a real, quantifiable 5G threat assessment so we can work fully to make sure our network is secure. And three, we need to have a serious conversation about what level, if any, of foreign components we are going to allow into the 5G network.”
Ms. Cantwell also said that “as we’re talking about 5G, I think that we need to put as much enthusiasm into the discussion of what will 5G investments do for us in the area of rural and underserved areas, like Tribal communities, into broadband.” Regarding mid-band spectrum, she also referred to the FCC’s ongoing 3.7-4.2 GHz band proceeding in saying “that valuable mid-band spectrum license[d] to satellite providers years ago is a very valuable commodity, and I think that we need to make sure that the U.S. taxpayer is involved in getting the best out of that as possible.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), the committee’s chairman, said in his opening statement that it is important for the U.S. to win the race to 5G and noted that China and other countries are challenging the U.S. for that title. He said winning would require a dedicated and coordinated effort involving government and industry and said he wanted witnesses to address both opportunities and impediments, including those dealing with spectrum allocations, including mid-band channels; infrastructure; and the security of networks.
“There is much bipartisan consensus around this issue,” Sen. Wicker said of 5G deployment, noting its potential to enable advancements in health care, agriculture, and other sectors.
In closing today’s hearing, Sen. Wicker said that “5G’s power and pervasiveness only highlights the [need] for a federal privacy framework as this technology knows no boundaries.”
“This is a great opportunity for bipartisan lawmaking in this committee, and my goal is legislation that will reach the president’s desk,” he added.
CTIA Executive Vice President Brad Gillen, who filled in for CTIA President and Chief Executive Officer Meredith Attwell Baker as a witness for the trade group, cited research commissioned by CTIA that said that freeing up 400 megahertz of mid-band spectrum would add $274 billion to the U.S. economy and that on average, other countries studied last year have made four times more mid-band spectrum available than the U.S.
He urged the reintroduction and passage of the AIRWAVES Act, noting that it would establish a pipeline of spectrum for future auctions and establish a rural dividend from auction proceeds. Mr. Gillen also spoke favorably of the SPECTRUM NOW Act and the Government Spectrum Valuation Act of 2018.
Competitive Carriers Association President and CEO Steve Berry told the lawmakers that “the race to 5G will not be won if rural America is left behind.”
He said it is crucial that the FCC corrects coverage maps before distributing $4.53 billion in MF-II support, and he commended the FCC for delaying the process to try to do that.
Mr. Berry also called on the updating of USF contribution policies “for a 5G world” and said that all carriers need access to spectrum for 5G services, including mid-band frequencies in various bands.
Mr. Berry also said that “CCA and its members fully support efforts to protect and harden networks from cybersecurity and other national security threats. As carriers continue to deploy next-generation wireless services, policymakers should continue to provide guidance to all carriers regarding risks and potential threats. It also is imperative to ensure that all carriers have access to equipment that is secure, particularly for smaller and rural carriers that lack economies of scale.
“With the telecommunications industry on the precipice of significant new investments in equipment and software to power 5G services, it is critically important that Federal authorities charged with national security decisions provide clear, unambiguous directions regarding the national security needs for all communications networks,” Mr. Berry added. “With this direction, government and industry can define a clear pathway for enhanced security and a process to provide adequate resources to secure networks and sustain national security priorities.”
Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, noted that his group “strongly supports preserving the entire 5.9 GHz band for V2X. We also support Congressional oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure all phases of testing for the 5.9 GHz band are completed before the FCC rules on whether the spectrum can be shared between V2X operations and unlicensed devices like Wi-Fi. Continued Congressional oversight is beneficial to ensure that the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration continue to recognize the safety benefits of the 5.9 GHz band.
“Any unlicensed use in the band should be done without harmful interference to the incumbent technology or other intelligent transportation systems technologies,” Mr. Bhatt added. “With all the advancements and technology deployments, we are finally on the cusp of turning the corner to reduce deaths, but we need the spectrum to do that. These safety innovations require dedicated spectrum to ensure they work every time without signal interference.”
Michael Wessel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission, said that he is worried “about our nation’s security — economic, critical infrastructure and ‘traditional’ security interests. On the economic side, we have read too many stories about Chinese cyberespionage, some facilitated and allegedly directed by the state, to steal our intellectual property. The fruits of that cyberespionage is estimated to have cost us hundreds of billions of dollars while advancing China’s economic development and strength.
“Financial networks, smart cities, power plants, dams, chemical production facilities, air traffic and so many other sectors are supported by the Internet and will be increasingly dependent on 5G with the dispersion of IoT devices,” Mr. Wessel added. “If Chinese companies provide the equipment, with control over the source code, the updates, and servicing, it creates extreme vulnerabilities.”
“The impending rollout of 5G here in the U.S. and across the globe requires that we address these vulnerabilities quickly and aggressively,” he said. “In my view it is better to err on the side of safety, as 5G will be the backbone of communications in the future. We cannot afford to ignore the actions and activities that China has engaged in with regard to predatory and protectionist policies, what their public pronouncements have identified are their plans and what actions they have engaged in in the cyber realm.”
Kim Zentz, CEO of Urbanova, a non-profit group that advocates for smart city projects, stressed the importance of collaboration and said that “end to end security and privacy practices are our collective responsibility to each other.”
During witness questioning, Sen. Wicker asked Mr. Wessel whether the horse is “already out of the barn” in terms of the deployment of Huawei equipment in the U.S. and globally.
“There is certainly some deployment,” Mr. Wessel replied. But he said that “the horse is not fully out of the barn.” He said the Trump administration has focused on the problem but that more needs to be done.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) said she is concerned that Chinese vendors are planning spyware in U.S. telecom networks. She asked the witnesses about the importance of information sharing between industry and the government on such threats.
Mr. Gillen said he agreed that a strong partnership was important “to know where the risks are.” He said that Chinese telecom vendors’ market share is two-tenths of one percent in the U.S. and 38% globally.
Ms. Blackburn also said that broadband mapping is “a problem” and she called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to “clean it up.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D., N.M.) expressed concern about the threat to U.S. national security of Chinese telecom vendors, but he also said that if they are banned, “there is a significant cost, at least in the short term.”
He asked Mr. Berry why some of his members have continued to do business with the vendors.
“Very few of our members have that equipment in their networks, and some of it have had it for several years,” Mr. Berry said, adding that his members have had to deploy networks “on a shoestring.” He added that USF policies “drive the cost down to the lowest common denominator.” He said that rural carriers may be able to cycle out their equipment as they deploy 5G services. He also said that many of his members have reported getting “overtures” from other vendors.
Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) noted that he has pushed the Cyber Shield Act, which would implement a voluntary cybersecurity certification program for Internet of things devices, and noted that CTIA has announced its own certification regime for IoT devices. He asked Mr. Gillen if CTIA favors allowing the certification to be available to consumers to allow them to make informed decisions, as the Cyber Shield Act would do. Mr. Gillen said it does.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) expressed concern about a market-based approach for reallocating 200 MHz of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for 5G terrestrial services, saying it could hurt efforts to provide connectivity to his rural state.
“We certainly share your concerns,” Mr. Gillen said. But he said that satellite operators believe the spectrum can be freed up without hurting incumbent operations. “200 [MHz] is a good start, but we need more,” he added.
Sen. Sullivan suggested that the spectrum should be auctioned by the FCC with proceeds helping bridge the digital divide.
Mr. Berry said many CCA members have not seen assurances in the record regarding a private sale of the spectrum that would be seen with an FCC auction.
In response to a question from Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), chairman of the communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee, Mr. Gillen praised legislation adopted in 21 states and many localities to streamline the deployment of small cells. Mr. Thune also said he plans to work in the 116th Congress to get autonomous vehicle legislation passed. Such legislation failed to get through in the 115th Congress.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) said he’s discouraged that the FCC has delayed its MF-II auction but is pleased the agency is trying to get its maps right.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), ranking member of the communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee, complained that the FCC is too “chicken” to undertake universal service contribution reform. He said the “shrinking pie” of revenues can’t cover all of the needs for broadband deployment. “We don’t have 4G in many places. We don’t have broadband connectivity in many places,” he added.
A number of senators expressed concern that rural areas would not see 5G service soon enough, noting that some don’t even have 4G service yet.
Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) asked Mr. Gillen when his state would get 5G service. Mr. Gillen replied that he doesn’t know. The senator asked if the digital divide would grow “wider” with 5G service. Mr. Gillen said it wouldn’t, but that it “will take time” to deploy services.
Mr. Tester also asked whether Chinese equipment should be ripped out of U.S. telecom networks. Mr. Wessel said yes for some networks but that security reviews should be conducted. But he said such resources are “very spotty” at the local level.
“I think we’ve got a problem here that we need to deal with,” said Sen. Tester, adding that the solution is not to require carriers to “rip the equipment out.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) asked Mr. Gillen about research into the health effects of RF emissions from small cells.
“I believe that Americans deserve to know what the health effects are,” the senator said. “And they deserve also a commitment to do the research on outstanding questions.”
The senator asked Mr. Gillen whether the industry has committed funding for such “independent research.”
“To my knowledge, there’s no active studies being backed by industry today,” said Mr. Gillen.
But he also said that “safety is paramount” and that the wireless industry relies on the Food and Drug Administration and other expert agencies.
“We’re always for more science. We also rely on what the scientists tell us,” he said.
“We’re kind of flying blind here so far as health and safety is concerned,” Mr. Blumenthal replied.
Before closing the hearing, Sen. Wicker noted that the National Cancer Institute has said that there isn’t consistent evidence linking non-ionizing radiation to increased risks of cancer.
But advocates have pointed to research suggesting a link and have called on the FCC to prevent the deployment of small cells until the impact can be assessed.
Several entities weighed in today on issues in conjunction with the hearing.
A spokesperson for WifiForward said, “Our 5G future depends on Wi-Fi, for cellular traffic offload, to handle our devices and experiences indoors, to deliver ultrafast networks too expensive to serve rural areas and to support the kind of capacity our economy increasingly demands. That's why the FCC is considering unleashing spectrum in 5.9 GHz and beyond for unlicensed use and they've been backed up by experts from industry and both sides of the aisle. ITS Americas is requesting Congress keep the 5.9 GHz band ‘for transportation safety applications’ without noting that the 5.9 GHz band has gone unused for 20 years and right now, nothing can operate in this band of spectrum but DSRC [dedicated short-range communications], a technology that is not yet commercially available. To do anything else in the band would require a new look at this spectrum. As the expert agency, the FCC is currently spending a lot of time determining how to get this spectrum put to work to generate value for Americans and has an open proceeding to do that.”
Protect America’s Wireless said, “Many assumed today’s hearing would focus on the consumer benefits of 5G and the regulatory hurdles that must be overcome to hasten 5G deployment. But despite its title, today’s hearing was not as much about the ‘race to 5G’ but rather the threat from Huawei and ZTE. There is a clear, bipartisan consensus that there are serious national security issues in allowing the Chinese to dictate the 5G future. Any company purporting to build a 5G network is going to face enormous scrutiny, especially when it comes to foreign investment and foreign components. The concerns raised today should raise the alarm bells on the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger, which purports to be America’s pathway to 5G. No one in the wireless industry has a closer relationship with Huawei than T-Mobile and Sprint, and Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company, is inseparable from Huawei, so much so that Deutsche Telekom has launched a campaign to defend Huawei in Europe while the U.S. government does the opposite.”
Ligado Networks LLC CEO Doug Smith renewed his call for the FCC to approve its plan to deploy a nationwide network in the L-band. “You cannot fight physics. We have licensed spectrum in the sweet spot of the lower mid-band. Our spectrum in the 1.5-1.6 GHz range enables a full mobile experience through a combination of coverage, capacity, and in-building penetration,” he said.
The Utilities Technology Council said it recommends that the committee (1) “[s]upport broadband-funding programs that promote the deployment of future-proof networks which provide robust, reliable and affordable broadband services to all Americans;” and (2) “[s]upport pole-attachment policies that promote safety, reliability and security of electric utility infrastructure while accelerating broadband deployment.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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