Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost American 5G efforts
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Friday introduced legislation to financially boost American fifth generation, or 5G, wireless technologies following concerns that Chinese telecommunications groups such as Huawei or ZTE pose national security threats.
The USA Telecommunications Act would set aside $750 million within a grant program overseen by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to help support the deployment and use of 5G networks in the U.S.
The bill would also establish an advisory committee that would include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies as well as representatives from the public and private sectors to advise on the grant funding.
Sponsors of the bill include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), along with Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).
“The ‘USA Telecommunications Act of 2020’ will encourage more competition in the network equipment market and help lower costs for trusted equipment over the long term,” the sponsors said Friday in a joint statement. “By promoting a more competitive market of trusted alternatives to suspect 5G equipment, we can more easily secure our critical networks and bring like-minded countries with us.”
The legislation is meant to provide funding to counter the influence of Chinese telecom groups like Huawei and ZTE on 5G systems. There has been strong bipartisan pushback against the two companies from both Capitol Hill and the White House over the past year, with the Department of Commerce essentially blacklisting Huawei by adding it to its “entity list” in 2019.
Beyond this step, President Trump signed into law multiple pieces of legislation last month that ban use of federal funds to purchase Huawei equipment. The FCC classified both Huawei and ZTE as national security threats late last year and unanimously banned U.S. telecom groups from using FCC funds to purchase equipment from the groups.
Concerns around Huawei, which is the largest 5G equipment manufacturer in the world, have stemmed from a Chinese intelligence law that requires companies and citizens to participate in state intelligence work if requested, including sharing data with the government. Huawei has consistently pushed back against accusations of espionage.
The House sponsors pointed to concerns around Huawei and ZTE in promoting the new legislation, particularly in light of the fact there is currently no major American 5G equipment alternative.
“Congress took strong action to protect our communications networks against foreign interference from dangerous companies like Huawei and ZTE,” the sponsors said. “Now, we must follow that up by promoting equipment and technologies that can ensure a more diverse, sustainable and competitive supply chain for America’s 5G networks.”
The same bill was previously introduced in the Senate in January by lawmakers including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).