Democrats and Republicans in Congress can still agree on one thing: They don’t trust Huawei and ZTE any farther than they can throw those large Chinese telecom firms.
The Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to approve the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, a measure that would bar the Federal Communications Commission from reviewing or approving any telecom-equipment authorization application from any firm on its list of companies “deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons.”
With the House voting for that measure by a 420-4 margin on Oct. 20, the bill introduced by Reps. Steve Scalise (R.-La.) and Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.) in June now heads to President Biden for his signature. It does not necessarily affect consumer hardware from either firm, although Huawei has given up on the US market for its phones and PCMag now recommends against buying ZTE smartphones because of that uncertainty.
Huawei and ZTE lead off that FCC list of companies considered harmful, with three smaller Chinese firms filling it out: Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, and Dahua Technology Company.
In September, the FCC outlined a $1.9 billion “rip-and-replace” program for US network operators to get Huawei and ZTE hardware out of their systems; the window for them to apply opened Friday morning and runs through Jan. 22, 2022.
Huawei and ZTE have consistently denied that their products can be used to spy on customers for the Chinese government or represent any other special security threat. But the FCC and such other authorities as the UK’s Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre have warned for years that the sketchy and unstable software bill of materials in their network gear rates as a major vulnerability in its own right.
"Huawei software does not have the same consistency from installation to installation as its competitors,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democratic appointee, said in September 2019 at the Competitive Carriers Association’s conference in Providence, R.I. He noted that much of the equipment in question had been bought 10 or more years ago, when it was much cheaper than competing alternatives.
Two months later, one of President Trump’s technology advisers phrased things in even starker terms in a speech at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon. Michael Kratsios, then-US chief technology officer, offered this warning: "If we don't act now, Chinese influence and control of technology will not only undermine the freedom of their own citizens, but the freedom of all citizens throughout the world."
Earlier this week, meanwhile, the FCC terminated China Telecom Americas' ability to provide telecom service in the US, given that it is "subject to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government and is highly likely to be forced to comply with Chinese government requests without sufficient legal procedures subject to independent judicial oversight," the agency says. The FCC will issue a consumer guide to help transition those who might be using China Telecom Americas' services to another provider, it says.
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