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China Gear Ban 'Initial' Step

House Communications Witnesses Say Protecting U.S. Networks Is Long-Term Effort

Witnesses set to testify during a House Communications Subcommittee hearing Thursday (see 2402090072) want lawmakers to consider longer-term initiatives for curbing China’s risk to U.S. communications networks. The push for Congress to allocate an additional $3.08 billion for the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (see 2401240001) will likely receive attention during the hearing, as it has in other recent panels, lobbyists said. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn.

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There will likely be more discussion Thursday about the Future Uses of Technology Upholding Reliable and Enhancing Networks Act (HR-1513) and four other measures billed as the hearing's focus, lobbyists told us. The other bills: the Foreign Adversary Communications Transparency Act (HR-820), Countering CCP Drones Act (HR-2864), draft Promote Secure Connectivity to Taiwan Act and draft Removing Our Unsecure Technologies to Ensure Reliability and Security (Routers) Act.

Banning the use of federal funds to purchase Huawei and ZTE equipment” in the 2019 Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act that authorized the rip-and-replace program “was an important step, but only an initial one,” James Lewis, Center for Strategic and International Studies senior vice president, says in written testimony. He and Craig Singleton, Foundation for Defense of Democracies' senior director-China program, tepidly reference HR-2864, which would add Chinese drone manufacturer Da-Jiang Innovations to the FCC’s covered entities list.

Adding additional companies, such as DJI, builds on this precedent,” Lewis says: But "pursuing individual companies, even large ones, creates the risk of leading to cumbersome bureaucracies that provide piecemeal solutions.” The federal government’s “policy of incrementally eroding the presence of Chinese technology firms within U.S. networks has provided a partial, albeit imperfect, safeguard against the risks of sabotage within domestic communications infrastructure,” Singleton says. Intensifying work “to remove Huawei, ZTE, and DJI equipment from U.S. networks to achieve this goal” may only have a short-term impact.

Lewis and Singleton back the Routers Act, which would direct the Commerce Department to “specify what transactions involving routers, modems, or devices that combine a modem and a router are prohibited” under then-President Donald Trump’s 2019 executive order. The EO bars transactions involving any information and communications technologies that pose an “undue risk of sabotage to or subversion of” U.S.-based communications services (see 1905150066).

Lewis suggests it would be “helpful” if Congress enacts the Routers Act given that “small and home office networks have become a target for foreign adversaries, as they are often less secure and can offer access to corporate networks.” Lewis says. Singleton calls for lawmakers to amend the measure “to include provisions ensuring collaboration between” the Commerce Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the State Department’s Cybersecurity and Digital Policy Bureau “to enhance oversight and assessment of national security concerns.”

Singleton suggests changes to HR-1513, which would direct the FCC to establish a 6G task force to recommend how to ensure U.S. leadership in developing that technology’s standards 2112020050). Congress should tie support for the proposed 6G task force “with a requirement for a study to ascertain the extent that open-source software ... is either being written or influenced by entities originating from countries of concern,” he says.

As the U.S. confronts the “stark reality” that China is determined “to integrate cyber operations within its broader strategic objectives … it becomes imperative to reassess the resilience of American networks and the strategic imperatives that govern its cyber and national defense policies,” Singleton says. “This ever-evolving threat also demands the development of comprehensive punitive measures that extend beyond the limited prosecutorial reach of” DOJ. “Such policy tools must be robust enough to impose significant costs on Chinese entities and individuals involved in perpetrating these crimes.”

None of the witnesses specifically endorse HR-820, which would require the FCC to publish a list of communications companies with FCC licenses or other authorizations in which China and other foreign adversaries’ governments hold a 10% or greater ownership (see 2210250067). Singleton suggests passing “legislation that requires the executive branch to concretely identify and evaluate the most likely and consequential Chinese-initiated sabotage scenarios against U.S. and allied communications networks.”

Deep interconnections” between the U.S. and China mean “managing technology supply chains with a hostile and untrustworthy partner who uses predatory trade practices and is undertaking the largest espionage campaign in history against” the U.S., Lewis says. “This is an uncomfortable situation that cannot be changed rapidly, but by using a combination of new legislation and executive branch authorities, the risk can be minimized and managed.” Broader “solutions could include finally passing a national privacy law, expanding transparency in supply chain networks, and restricting egregious cases where the use of Chinese technology poses potential risk,” he says.

The US cannot take its foot off the gas when it comes to 6G or to the security of its communications networks,” Lindsay Gorman, German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy senior fellow-emerging technologies, says in written testimony. She notes “domestic rip-and-replace efforts” and “international cooperation to create alternatives to Chinese providers.” Gorman recommends Congress “fund the creation of international centers of excellence for Next G research and development, such as through the Next G Alliance, with an aim to deepen allied coordination on 6G innovation hubs.”