ANSI CEO writes that abandoning US leadership roles in standards bodies to comply with Department of Commerce rules would have a “devastating effect” on US competitiveness
The Trump Administration’s restrictions on engagement with Chinese vendor Huawei have thrown standards bodies and their participants into confusion as they try to balance collaborative international standards processes with the new U.S. regulations on interactions with Huawei, and more than two dozen U.S.-based standards groups have written to the Commerce Department asking that it make clear that standards-related activities are exempt from the trade-and-technology-related restrictions.
The U.S. Commerce Department’s placing of Huawei on a restricted Entity List “created a serious problem of uncertainty for standards-setting consortia, causing harm to the consortia system and the many major U.S. companies that rely on it,” according to a letter from organizations including the Ethernet Alliance, the Broadband Forum, MulteFire Alliance, NFC Forum, the HDMI Forum, MIPI Alliance and others.
According to the letter, the international standards process developed over the last several decades relies heavily on “consortia” organizations that operate under similar rules to organizations accredited by the American National Standards Institute, but may not officially be accredited, “in part to emphasize their status as neutral platforms for international collaboration.”
“The difficult question for organizations and their participating members as a result of the May 16, 2019 Entity List order has been whether this level of openness and public output [is]… such that participants can continue to engage in typical consortia activities in organizations where Huawei is a member without violating the new Entity List order,” the groups wrote. “Due to the current uncertainty on this question, some consortia have taken the precaution of suspending Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates from organization membership; others have restricted the participation of Huawei and its affiliates to non-technical activities.
Such actions “ultimately [undermine]the effectiveness of the consortia-based development process, as well as the desirability, in the eyes of the global ICT community, of hosting such activities in U.S.-based consortia at all. This creates a serious risk that specifications developed by U.S.-based consortia will fail to achieve the goal of adoption as formal or de facto international standards, and that future necessary standardization efforts will be led elsewhere.
“Further, if companies with large market presence are excluded from U.S.-based standards efforts, a possible result is the launch of competing standards, leading to lengthy and destructive ‘standards wars,’” they concluded. “Accordingly, we urgently request: please make a clear statement that development of open enrollment, consensus-based standards or technical specifications as conducted by consortia is exempt from the scope of the Entity List designation.”
In a separate letter, the American National Standards Institute’s President and CEO S. Joe Bhatia similarly requested clarifying guidance, but also laid out ANSI’s position that “continued engagement in open and unrestricted standards development activities is unaffected by the recent actions of the Bureau of Industry and Security.”
After Huawei was added to Commerce’s Entity List, ANSI noted, Commerce subsequently issued a 90-day General License that allowed continued sales of U.S. technology to Huawei as well as allowing Huawei to support its products in the U.S. That General License “also states that standards developers may continue to engage with Huawei ‘as necessary for the development of 5G standards as part of a duly recognized international standards body,’” Bhatia wrote.
“That latter ‘exception’ has raised questions whether the otherwise normal engagement in open and unrestricted standards activities with Huawei is still permitted. We believe it is,” he wrote. “Open and unrestricted standards activities include, but are not limited to, collaboration in technical committees, subcommittees, and working groups, non-proprietary exchanges with national delegation experts and thousands of international standards participants that are intended to result in published standards beneficial to U.S. interests. … Information shared in the development of ISO standards in ISO committees at any stage is regarded as public and ‘open’ as there are no restrictions on those participating to keep it confidential, and indeed, those participating are encouraged to seek broad input. … These unclassified, non-proprietary standards are intended to be published and made available to the public without restrictions upon further dissemination.
“ANSI does not believe that discussions with Huawei representatives participating in open and unrestricted standards activities are [subject to Entity List-related restrictions]in the first place and therefore, the recent Temporary General License does not place any additional burdens on standards development in such activities that include Huawei,” he added.
Those conclusions are based on guidance from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control that ANSI received in 2012 and 2015, Bhatia wrote. That guidance “suggests that a similar [regulatory]regime would not require a special or general license for discussions with Huawei representatives participating in open and unrestricted standards activities that involve publicly-available information,” he wrote.
“A contrary interpretation … would have a devastating effect on international standards development and severely impede U.S. industry’s abilities to compete abroad,” Bhatia continued. “U.S. industry is increasingly global and invests in relevant international standards forums to develop standards. The United States has long been a leader in the international standards arena and key contributor to international solutions. Continued access to these forums, while respecting national security constraints, is critical to U.S. competitiveness. Others are clamoring for leadership roles that U.S. representatives currently occupy in organizations such as ISO/IEC JTC 1 – information technology – and others. Abandoning these roles to our competitors would be devastating to U.S. industry and to U.S. government’s interests in emerging technologies.”