Quick Hits: Nov. 19

*** A letter signed by 39 Democratic senators urges House and Senate appropriators to increase the budget of the Election Assistance Commission and fund election security grants with robust mandates around paper ballots and other protections.

Congress is currently considering dueling proposals in the House and Senate for election security grants. The House version would open up $600 million in grants for states to replace old voting machines and improve other aspects of election infrastructure, while the Senate version offers only $250 million, but with almost no strings attached.

The senators, including presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), cite Russian probing and compromise of election infrastructure in 2016 and testimony from State Secretaries across the country in asking Congress to “include the highest level of appropriation and to accept the strong requirements enumerated in the House bill.”

*** The Commerce Department announced it would extend temporary licenses for companies to do business with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei for another 90 days.

In May the U.S. government added Huawei and its affiliates to the Commerce entity list, banning it from buying parts and components from U.S. companies. However, it issued temporary general licenses to allow for continued purchases under limited circumstances, including purchases that allow for the continued operation of existing networks and equipment, software support to existing handsets, cybersecurity research or vulnerability disclosure programs and engagements that a “duly recognized standards body” has found necessary for developing 5G network standards.

In a statement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the latest move would “allow carriers to continue to service customers in some of the most remote areas of the United States who would otherwise be left in the dark.” Ross also said the department would “rigorously monitor” sensitive technology exports for national security threats.

*** In other rural telecommunications news, two GOP senators have introduced legislation that would require the government to auction off mid-band radio spectrum deemed critical to 5G network development and set aside 50 percent of the revenues for federal coffers.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair of the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who heads the subcommittee on communications technology, introduced the 5G Spectrum Act, which would direct the FCC to hold a public auction for at least 280 Megahertz of C-band spectrum starting in December 2020 and ensure that half the revenues are pumped back into the Treasury.