House committee advances legislation to secure telecom networks against foreign interference

House committee advances legislation to secure telecom networks against foreign interference
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A key House committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would ban the government from buying telecommunications equipment from companies deemed to be national security threats, such as Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously voted in favor of the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which would prohibit the government from purchasing equipment or services from companies that could pose "national security risks."

It would also require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a $1 billion program to help small and rural communications providers "remove suspect network equipment and replace it with more secure equipment."

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"Going forward, people need to be paying attention to the security of their networks and we’re going to help by giving them the tools they need," Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills House GOP unveils alternative drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote MORE (R-Ore.), the ranking member of the committee, said at the markup on Wednesday.

The bill is the latest attempt to address threats posed by Huawei, which critics say could enable the Chinese government to spy on U.S. citizens.

The Commerce Department has announced it will soon bar U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei, but on Monday extended that timeline by 90 days amid concerns that the trade blacklist will harm rural broadband carriers who rely on Huawei equipment. The Chinese telecom giant's equipment is often cheaper than alternatives in the U.S.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday also unanimously advanced the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, which would require the administration to create an “unclassified national strategy” to protect U.S. consumers and allies from threats to next-generation wireless, or 5G, systems.

The FCC is scheduled to vote later this week on two proposals aimed that limiting the involvement of Huawei and Chinese telecom company ZTE in the U.S. telecom system.

The proposals would ban the use of the FCC's Universal Service Fund to purchase equipment from companies deemed national security threats, and would classify both Huawei and ZTE as threats.