Senate approves bill to protect telecommunications infrastructure from foreign threats

U.S. Senate Chamber
Greg Nash

The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation to take steps to further crack down on the use of telecommunications products from companies deemed to be a national security threat, such as those based in China.

The Secure Equipment Act would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from considering or issuing 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. The FCC last year formally designated both Huawei and ZTE as national security threats. 

The bill was approved by the House last week by a vote of 420-4, and now heads to President Biden’s desk for signature. 

The legislation was sponsored in the upper chamber by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). In the House the bill was sponsored by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

All four lawmakers celebrated the passage of the Secure Equipment Act on Thursday, emphasizing threats posed by Chinese telecommunications companies. 

“Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei and ZTE are known national security threats and have no place in our telecommunications network,” Rubio said in a statement. “I am grateful that the Senate and House passed this bill, which will help keep compromised equipment from bad actors out of critical American infrastructure. Now, President Biden must swiftly sign it into law so that the Chinese Communist Party can no longer exploit this dangerous loophole.” 

Markey stressed the need to “animate our technology with our values.”

“Our bipartisan legislation will keep compromised equipment out of U.S. telecommunications networks and ensure our technology is safe for consumers and secure for the United States,” Markey said in a separate statement.

“I’m proud to have helped lead this effort and I thank my colleagues in both chambers of Congress for passing our bill. I stand ready to now work with the Biden administration and the FCC to implement this critical national security measure.”

Scalise said the bill “forcefully signals to the Chinese Communist Party that America is committed to protecting the privacy and security of our citizens,” while Eshoo said separately that she was “eager to see this bill signed into law by the President soon.”

Tags Anna Eshoo China Chinese telecommunications Ed Markey Huawei Joe Biden Marco Rubio Senate Steve Scalise ZTE
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