House, Senate Pass Law Preventing Insecure Equipment in Domestic Telecom Infrastructure

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 420-4 in favor of the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, according to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) press release applauding the passage. If enacted, the law would require the FCC to update its equipment authorization process to guard against security threats posed to the nation’s telecommunication system.

Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sponsored the bill, according to Sen. Markey’s press release. The bill will now head to President Biden’s desk.

In particular, the new law reportedly directs the FCC to “adopt rules clarifying that it will no longer review or issue new equipment licenses to companies – such as the People’s Republic of China state-backed firms Huawei and ZTE – on the agency’s ‘Covered Equipment or Services List’ that pose a national security threat,” the senator’s news release said. The announcement also explained that the FCC is required to maintain the list under a provision of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, which sets forth specific criteria for determining what communications equipment or services pose an unjustifiable risk to domestic safety.

Last year, the FCC adopted new rules to require that U.S. telecommunications carriers remove and replace equipment provided by “covered” companies purchased with federal funding. According to Sen. Markey’s announcement, the legislators introduced the Secure Equipment Act to extend those protections to equipment purchased with private money in order to “close th[e] loophole and further prevent identified security threats from having a presence in U.S. telecommunications networks.”

According to the FCC’s press release, Commissioner Brendan Carr commended the bipartisanship displayed by the lawmakers. “I applaud Senator Rubio and Senator Markey as well as Republican Whip Scalise and Congresswoman Eshoo for their leadership and work to secure America’s communications networks,” he said in a statement. “Their work in the Senate and House to secure passage of this legislation … will help to ensure that insecure gear from companies like Huawei and ZTE can no longer be inserted into America’s communications networks.”

The legislative news comes shortly after the FCC banned China Telecom Americas from operation in the country, in addition to a series of other steps taken to oust Chinese presence from domestic telecommunication operations.