House panel moves 5G protection bills

A House telecommunications subcommittee approved several measures aimed at sharpening supply chain protections and security for 5G wireless networks.

wireless networks

House lawmakers last week advanced legislation that would boost protections of emerging 5G wireless technology, as well as offer incentives for telecommunications providers to remove Chinese-made equipment from their networks.

In a Nov. 14 markup session, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology approved five bills related to emerging 5G networks and technology, advancing them to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

Lawmakers and federal agencies officials are increasingly concerned about Chinese suppliers, particularly Huawei and ZTE, dominating the emerging 5G wireless network gear market.

The concern is that such gear presents national security risks if widely installed in critical domestic U.S. network infrastructure, as both companies are tied to the Chinese government.

In the last few months, there have been efforts to get smaller telecommunications providers to remove the less-expensive Huawei and ZTE gear already installed in their networks. The set of 5G bills approved on Nov. 14 included another one of those efforts.

The Federal Communications Commission is set to make a decision on new rules that could prohibit the use of its Universal Services Fund subsidy to buy Huawei and ZTE gear. On Nov. 14, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted out a letter from Attorney General William Barr supporting the move. The FCC votes on the proposed ban on Nov. 22.

H.R. 4998 would look to reimburse smaller U.S. telecommunications providers with under two million customers for removing Huawei and ZTE gear from their networks. Smaller carriers have installed the equipment at higher rates than large providers because it is less expensive. The bill also would prohibit the use of some federal subsidies to buy the equipment.

Other bills approved by the subcommittee would look to take a more aggressive approach to developing, maintaining and protecting emerging 5G wireless equipment and networks. H.R. 2881, the Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2019, would direct the White House to develop a "Secure Next Generation Mobile Communications Strategy” in consultation with the FCC, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Secretary of Defense.

The bill also asks for a list of domestic 5G and future wireless technology equipment suppliers, as well from as suppliers in countries in “mutual defense” and strategic allied countries. And it calls for a list of trusted domestic and international suppliers for 5G and future wireless equipment technology.

H.R. 4461, the Network Security Information Sharing Act of 2019, would tap DHS, NTIA, the DNI, the FCC and the FBI to set up a program to share supply chain risk data with communications service providers.

Resolution 575, approved alongside the bills, would adopt the “Prague Proposal” recommendations developed last May to bake cybersecurity into 5G infrastructure from initial design to implementation.

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