Rural Wireless Carriers, Nokia Question FCC’s Planned Security Vote

The Rural Wireless Association and Nokia are concerned about the FCC’s plan to vote next week on a proposal to block carriers from receiving Universal Service Fund dollars if they use services or equipment from companies considered a security threat to the United States. The fear is Chinese companies like Huawei or ZTE in particular, might use their gear to spy on Americans for their government, a charge both have denied.

RWA tells the agency, if adopted, the proposal would not only fail to protect national security, but it would also irreparably damage broadband networks and limit future deployment in many rural areas. “A serious defensive national cyber security strategy requires a risk management strategy and program that address the risk from all suppliers of products and services to government and critical infrastructure, including the communications sector. Additionally, any such national cyber security strategy should be applicable to all communications networks in the United States rather than targeting those relatively few communications networks funded in part by USF that use equipment from particular countries,” says the RWA in a filing with the agency this week.  

Like the Commission, the RWA says it understands the communications network supply chain is global. That’s why it recommends the agency focus its efforts on “creating a standards and testing based system, and not on imposing a costly and ultimately ineffective ‘country of origin’ prohibitory regime that would provide nothing more than a false sense of security.”

Nokia goes further, telling the Commission the draft language has already affected the marketplace. Specifically, Nokia says the way the draft is written “has allowed certain parties to deliberately misconstrue the potential scope of the Commission’s approach both to engender opposition to the proposal, and to sow doubt about the long-term eligibility of certain vendors under an eventual rule, in order to win short term business from Universal Service Fund (USF) eligible entities.”

Some parties are saying the FCC is casting a wide net to indiscriminately bar vendors that have a presence in, or manufacture in, certain geographies, like China, according to Nokia. Opponents are stoking fears that the effect of the order would limit equipment supplier options for carriers seeking USF support, the company charges.

That’s why it’s asking the Commission to clarify some points. Nokia asks the FCC to make clear that identifying a company as a prohibited provider, “is an extraordinary act that the Commission expects would be used sparingly,” and based on a review that takes into account the totality of the circumstances. Nokia further recommends the Commission include in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, factors that may indicate a company is a trusted vendor using predictable criteria.

By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

April 13, 2018         

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