FCC Proposes Rules to Keep Huawei, ZTE Out of 5G Networks

By: Bethany Patterson

On October 29, the Federal Communications Commission released a proposal to protect U.S. wireless networks from companies that threaten our national security. 

The proposal ensures that any money from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) cannot be “used in a way that undermines or poses a threat to national security.” It was released just one day after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai published an op-ed on the importance of keeping Chinese equipment companies Huawei and ZTE out of American networks. 

The report and order would prohibit recipients of USF funds from purchasing equipment from companies that endanger national security. While the rule allows the FCC to name other dangerous companies in the future, it specifically designates Huawei and ZTE as “covered companies” that pose a threat to the country. 

Not only does the FCC want to prevent Huawei and ZTE from getting into our networks, it wants to ensure that the companies’ existing equipment is removed. As such, FCC commissioners will explore creating a program to reimburse USF recipients for “ripping and replacing” this equipment. 

This will be no small task. In a December 2018 filing, the Rural Wireless Association estimated that “25 percent of its carrier members would be impacted” if such a rule were to pass. But considering the threats that Huawei and ZTE pose to our networks, it is worth the effort. 

Huawei could potentially be used by foreign bad actors to harm the United States. Finite State scanned over 1.5 million files within 558 different products in Huawei’s product line and found that 55 percent had at least one potential backdoor. Nearly 30 percent of these devices had a default username and password stored in the firmware, meaning that others could access it if the owners didn’t change the credentials. 

“When it comes to 5G and America’s security, we can’t afford to take a risk and hope for the best. We need to make sure our networks won’t harm our national security, threaten our economic security, or undermine our values,” Chairman Pai said in a statement

The FCC isn’t the only government agency to distrust these companies. In May, the Commerce Department blacklisted Huawei. The directors of the CIA, FBI, and NSA have also reportedly warned against using Huawei equipment. 

The FCC will vote on the proposal at its open commission meeting on November 19. 

Photo credit: John Karakatsanis (Flickr)