The security of America’s telecommunications supply chain is front and center on the agenda for the FCC’s December votes.
Recently, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told The Hill it’s the “number one concern” for democracy at home and abroad, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “In particular, [O’Brien] warned that installing equipment from Chinese firms in the backbone of our 5G networks could give the Communist Chinese government ‘backdoors to pull up every bit of data in the world,’” notes Pai in his latest blog post.
The FCC has taken a series of actions to secure the integrity of the communications supply chain. The Commission intends to build on this progress when leaders vote on an Order implementing the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, more commonly known as “Rip and Replace.”
The new rules would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of the communications equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security. They would require eligible telecommunications carriers to remove and replace such equipment from their networks.
They would also establish a reimbursement program to subsidize smaller carriers. “Moreover, the rules would mandate strict reporting requirements to ensure we are informed about the ongoing presence of insecure equipment in communications networks,” states Pai.
At the same time, the agency wants to speed development of new technologies that could help grow the economy. “Every day, pretty much every American uses multiple devices or gadgets that were approved through the FCC’s equipment authorization program, whether it’s your cell phone, your laptop, or your WiFi router. This authorization process offers consumers assurance that their devices will work as intended and operate free from harmful interference,” says Pai.
But as the pace of innovation has increased in the internet age and product development cycles have accelerated, the agency’s equipment authorization rules in some ways have not kept pace. They limit the ability of device manufacturers to market and import RF devices in the most efficient and cost-effective ways, according to the Chairman. The Commission intends to vote on a proposal to allow, prior to equipment authorization, conditional sales of RF devices to consumers under certain circumstances. The proposal would also allow a limited number of RF devices to be imported for select pre-sale activities.
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