Cybersecurity

House committee approves slate of bills to improve telecom security

The U.S. Capitol is seen on June 23
Greg Nash

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved multiple pieces of legislation meant to strengthen telecommunications against cyberattacks.

The committee approved by voice vote eight bipartisan bills covering issues including increasing cybersecurity best practices, communications security, and strengthening cyber programs at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

“Today I am proud that the Energy and Commerce Committee came together to pass urgently needed legislation that will promote more secure networks and supply chains, bringing us one step closer to a safer and more secure wireless future,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a statement following the markup of the bills. 

“Collectively, these bipartisan bills will educate the public, smaller providers, and small businesses on how best to protect their telecommunications networks and supply chains – all while improving the coordination and resources necessary to support them,” he added. 

The bills approved included the Secure Equipment Act, backed by Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), which would require the FCC to take steps to block authorization of products from companies on the agency’s “covered list.” Companies on this list include Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, which the Trump administration took steps to block from doing business in the U.S. due to espionage and security concerns. 

Several other bills approved by the committee also addressed telecom security concerns, including the Understanding Cybersecurity of Mobile Networks Act. The bill, sponsored by Eshoo and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Calif.), would require the NTIA to look into and report back on cyber vulnerabilities in mobile networks. 

Other bills aimed at securing the telecom sector were approved included a bipartisan measure sponsored primarily by Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), which would require the Commerce Department to evaluate the economic competitiveness of trusted companies used within the communication technology supply chain. 

The FUTURE Networks Act, spearheaded by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) would require the FCC to establish a sixth generation (6G) task force to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of 6G wireless technologies. 

A non-telecom cyber bill headed to a vote in the House is the American Cybersecurity Literacy Act, which would require the NTIA to establish a cyber literacy campaign to help promote understanding of how to stay safe online and prevent successful cyberattacks. 

The bipartisan measure is primarily sponsored by Kinzinger, who on Wednesday pointed to recent ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS USA in noting that “even large companies are not immune to these attacks.”

Two other bipartisan measures approved are meant to reorganize and strengthen cybersecurity programs at the FCC and NTIA, and another piece of legislation would help expand network access in rural areas. 

Today is a good example of what we can accomplish when we work together,” Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said during the markup, adding that “with recent cyberattacks, it is our duty to find solutions that ensure a robust and secure supply chain for our communications networks.”

The slate of bills were approved by the committee the day after the full House passed multiple pieces of cybersecurity legislation designed to protect critical infrastructure including the energy sector from cyberattacks. Three bipartisan bills from the House Energy and Commerce Committee were among those approved by the House in the wake of escalating major cyberattacks.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Anna Eshoo Billy Long Cathy McMorris Rodgers Chinese telecommunications cybersecurity FCC Frank Pallone Mike Doyle NTIA Steve Scalise

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