US bans Chinese telecoms imports – won’t even consider authorizing them

The United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has barred itself from authorizing the import or sale of Chinese telecoms and video surveillance products from Huawei, ZTE, Hytera Communications, Hikvision, and Dahua, on national security grounds.

As it is not legal to offer such products in the US without FCC approval, the move is effectively a ban on the five vendors’ products.

It’s an expression of The Secure Equipment Act – a Biden administration law that requires the FCC to update its equipment authorization procedures.

As such it is at least partly a bureaucratic box-ticking exercise, which FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel acknowledged in an announcement [PDF] of the order.

“While we’ve flagged equipment as posing a national security risk, prohibited companies from using federal funds to purchase them, and even stood up programs to replace them, for the last several years the FCC has continued to put its stamp of approval on this equipment through its equipment authorization process,” she wrote. “But that does not make any sense. After all, there is little benefit in having these lists and these bans in place just to leave open other opportunities for this equipment to be present in our networks.”

The proscription on even assessing products therefore takes away an opportunity for products deemed a national security risk to reach the US.

The new arrangements mean the FCC will also ban assessing white label products built by the five Chinese vendors named above. In addition to networking equipment and CCTV products, phones, cameras, Wi-Fi routers and other smart home kit won’t be authorized for sale on US soil. US government agencies have been barred from using Chinese CCTV products.

The FCC has also changed its authorization rules to require applicants to have a US-based agent.

“When I originally proposed that the Notice do just this, it was an effort to eliminate the loophole that too many bad actors had used to evade enforcement of our rules in the past,” stated [PDF] FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “No more. If you want to be authorized to sell your equipment in the United States, we must be able to enforce our rules against you if you violate them. Full stop.”

The FCC signaled this is not the end of its efforts to prevent insecure kit reaching US shores and becoming present in local networks. FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out that the Order [PDF] ending authorizations of Chinese products also asks whether the regulator should consider revising the processes it uses to assess components made in China – perhaps by asking equipment suppliers to demonstrate that none of the parts they use are on any FCC naughty list.

The Order notes that doing so would be a considerable burden on manufacturers and network operators alike, so may not be workable. The FCC is nonetheless pressing ahead with consultations on the idea. ®

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