House passes bills to secure telecommunications infrastructure

A busy week ahead for Congress
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The House on Wednesday approved multiple bipartisan bills aimed at securing U.S. telecommunications systems against foreign interference, in particular against threats from China. 

The Secure Equipment Act, sponsored by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), was approved by the House by a vote of 420-4, and would require the Federal Communications Commission (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 both Congress and the Trump administration took steps to block from the U.S. due to national security and espionage concerns. 

“By prohibiting the FCC from issuing any equipment licenses to companies identified as a threat to our national security, this bill prevents compromised Chinese equipment from threatening America’s networks,” Scalise said in a statement. “The Secure Equipment Act sends a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that America is committed to securing our networks and protecting the privacy and safety of our citizens.”

Eshoo also praised the bill’s passage, noting in a separate statement that “equipment made by Huawei and ZTE, companies linked to the Chinese government, increase the vulnerabilities of our telecommunication systems and put the U.S. at risk.”

A Senate version of the bill introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in May awaits consideration. 

The House on Wednesday also passed the Communications Security Advisory Act, which would require the FCC to permanently establish a council to help make recommendations on ways to increase the security and reliability of telecommunications networks.  

The bipartisan bill — sponsored by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) — was passed by the House by a vote of 397-29. 

A third bill approved by the House Wednesday, this time by a vote of 413-14, was the Information and Communication Technology Strategy Act, which is sponsored by Reps. Billy Long (R-Mo.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.). The bill would require the Commerce Department to develop a strategy to evaluate the economic competitiveness of companies within the communication technology supply chain. 

“The passage of this legislation brings us one step closer to making sure our nation’s information technology supply chains are secure and free from dependence on foreign countries like China,” Long said in a statement Wednesday. “We need to continue to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that the whole-of-government strategy that is created through this legislation is properly implemented.”

The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where all three bills originated, also applauded passage of the measures by the House.

“Today the House continued its work to strengthen our nation’s telecommunications infrastructure for the future by overwhelmingly passing four bipartisan bills,” Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) said in a joint statement. 

“Together, these bills will boost network reliability, protect against suspect equipment that poses a risk to our national security, support small communications network providers, and bolster the economic competitiveness of our technology supply chains,” they said. “We commend the bipartisan work that went into these bills that advanced out of our Committee in July and hope that the Senate will take action soon.”

All three bills now move to the Senate for consideration.

Tags Abigail Spanberger Anna Eshoo Billy Long China cyberattacks Ed Markey Elissa Slotkin Frank Pallone House Energy and Commerce Committee House of Representatives Huawei Jerry McNerney Kurt Schrader Marco Rubio Mike Doyle Steve Scalise telecommunications services Tim Walberg ZTE

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