When the FCC announced its decision on June 30 to make final its designation of Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, information the agency released did not include a separate comment from its chairman, Ajit Pai. However, Pai appeared on the Fox Business channel’s program, Lou Dobbs Tonight, that night, and elaborated upon the FCC’s decision.
“Unlike in Communist China, we have the rule of law in this country,” Pai said. “In November 2019, the FCC proposed to ban the use of FCC funding being used by telecom carriers here in the United States on problematic equipment or services coming from carriers like Huawei and ZTE. We initially proposed to designate Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, but we allowed everyone to make their case.”
In the proceeding, the chairman said, the FCC heard from the executive branch, Congress, other stakeholders, Huawei and ZTE. He said the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggested that Huawei and ZTE would be national security threats, which is why the FCC moved forward with a firm designation to that effect. Thus, as of July 1, U.S. telecom carriers are not allowed to use Universal Service Fund monies on equipment or services from the two companies.
Pai said that the FCC is looking at the overall security of U.S. communications networks. He said that during 2019, the agency began discussions whether to extend the prohibition to include telecom network use of equipment or services even if the FCC does not fund them. He said the FCC has been working with Congress on so-called rip-and-replace legislation to finance the removal of problematic equipment. In the chairman’s view, the bottom line is that no matter what company it is, no matter what country that company is located in, if it is compromising the security of the United States’ communications networks, it is not allowable.
“What we found was that these two companies, Huawei and ZTE, had ties to the Chinese Communist Party and ties to the Chinese military apparatus — the People’s Liberation Army,” Pai said. “In addition, they are obligated under Chinese law: If they get a request from the Chinese secret police intelligence services, they must comply with it, and they are prohibited from disclosing the fact of that request to any of their customers.”
Especially with small rural telecom carriers, Pai said, it is not a risk the FCC believes is worth taking — a risk that he said could allow installation of backdoors, infection of the network with malware and the theft of intellectual property. He said the risks are not worth taking in the United States or elsewhere in the world.
“Based on my personal conversations with some of my foreign counterparts, we have gotten a good response from many of our allies throughout the world,” Paid said. “I talked with folks from South America, Europe and Asia. Those conversations are starting to have traction. Recently, Singapore, for example, took a step with one of its major carriers to limit Huawei’s installation of 5G equipment. The Indian government banned 59 Chinese-based mobile apps, including companies like Tik Tok, from their networks altogether.”
There is a growing recognition around the world, Paid said, that the Chinese Communist Party presents a unique threat to communications networks. “Here in the United States, we are sending a signal that we are not going to tolerate that threat any longer,” he said.