Protecting Towers, Small Cells at Heart of 5G Security Bill

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U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, led three other Senators in introducing the Network Security Trade Act (S. 3394) on Thursday. The legislation is meant to ensure U.S. communications infrastructure security is a clear negotiating objective of America’s trade policy.

During a speech on the Senate floor, Thune said: “We need to ensure that the component parts of our devices – and, critically, the component parts of telecommunications networks, like cell towers and the small cells that will be required for 5G – are secure.”

 He referenced Wednesday’s Senate Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on 5G network supply chain security in which experts noted the security risks with 5G networks grow compared to 4G because it means a greater number of connected devices.  

“That’s why an essential part of deploying 5G networks has to be looking at how we can mitigate security risks,” he explained. “That means ensuring that 5G equipment comes from trusted vendors. But while some countries have committed to using trusted companies to build out their telecommunications networks, other countries are still planning to make use of Huawei’s technology.” That’s why he introduced legislation to make telecommunications security a key objective when negotiating future trade deals.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Mark Warner (D-VA) co-sponsor the bill. It would amend the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority, which is in effect until July 1, 2021, to include a negotiating objective related to the security of communications networks. While the bill does not name specific state-owned companies, it would direct the executive branch to ensure that the equipment and technology that are used to create the global communications infrastructure are not compromised.

It would achieve that goal by addressing barriers to the security of communications networks and supply chains and unfair trade practices of state-owned or state-controlled communications equipment suppliers in new trade agreements. Confronting these issues, which this legislation requires, is critical as the United States begins formal trade talks with the United Kingdom and other allies, according to Thune and the other lawmakers.   

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