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Rip-and-Replace, ACP Funding Mentions

House Communications Leaders Back Bills Expanding FCC Gear Blacklist

House Communications Subcommittee members were universally positive about the Future Uses of Technology Upholding Reliable and Enhancing Networks Act (HR-1513) and four other communications network security bills during a Thursday hearing. House Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and other lawmakers used the hearing to continue the drumbeat for Congress to allocate an additional $3.08 billion to close a funding shortfall for the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, as expected (see 2402140055). Several Democrats touted the stopgap funding push for the FCC’s affordable connectivity program (see 2402130074) as another priority for securing U.S. networks.

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Ensuring carriers have the resources to remove suspect equipment from U.S. networks and replace it with trusted equipment remains a “top priority” for House Commerce, Rodgers said. “We need to come together” and allocate additional rip-and-replace money, ensuring program participants get rid of equipment from Huawei and other suspect vendors, Pallone said. Rip-and-replace funding has come up in House Communications’ two other hearings since the beginning of the year (see 2401170078). It’s also the focus of competing Capitol Hill appropriations pushes as part of FY 2024 spending negotiations and spectrum legislative talks (see 2401240001).

Allowing this shortfall to persist is a gift to our foreign adversaries,” said House Communications ranking member Doris Matsui, D-Calif. “They would like nothing more than to see Congress come up short.” Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Tim Walberg, R-Mich., were among other lawmakers who raised the item Thursday. Backing the additional funding were Center for Strategic and International Studies Senior Vice President James Lewis, Foundation for Defense of Democracies China Program Senior Director Craig Singleton and Lindsay Gorman, German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy senior fellow-emerging technologies.

House Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone of New Jersey was one of several Democrats who cited the push for stopgap ACP money. Latta and other GOP leaders on the House and Senate Commerce panels have resisted allocating the program more money without simultaneously revamping its rules and administration (see 2312210074). Aiding internet affordability “helps drive our global leadership in innovation, which strengthens our nation as a whole,” Pallone said. He's hopeful "that our Republican colleagues will join with us in passing this legislation.” Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-Calif., who led filing of the House version of the ACP Extension Act (HR-6929/S-3565), said its proposed $7 billion in funding in FY24 is needed to keep it running while lawmakers “hash out a sustainable long-term funding solution.” Clarke separately wrote House colleagues about HR-6929/S-3565 Thursday.

Fully funding rip and replace is “just the first step” and Congress should follow up with the Foreign Adversary Communications Transparency Act (HR-820), Countering CCP Drones Act (HR-2864) and two draft measures on House Communications’ agenda Thursday, Rodgers said. The draft bills are the Promote Secure Connectivity to Taiwan Act and Removing Our Unsecure Technologies to Ensure Reliability and Security (Routers) Act.

Bipartisan support for all five measures during the hearing makes it likely House Communications will mark them up soon after the chamber returns from recess Feb. 28, lobbyists told us. House Communications Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, spoke positively about the five measures, saying they collectively “highlight the new and evolving threat that our adversaries pose to our communications networks and show that we must remain vigilant and ready to act.”

Rodgers focused on HR-820 and the Routers Act during the hearing. HR-820 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 ownership stake in the entity of 10% or more (see 2210250067). The Routers Act 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, which bars transactions involving information and communications technologies that pose an “undue risk of sabotage to or subversion of” U.S.-based communications services (see 1905150066).

Rodgers also appeared somewhat supportive of HR-2864, which would add Chinese drone manufacturer Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI) to the FCC’s covered entities list. That “may be a good step to address the threat” DJI poses, but “I feel like we’re going to start playing whack-a-mole with this,” Rodgers said. She’s seeking a “more comprehensive solution.”

Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga., noted he’s “considering” filing the Safeguarding Home and Industrial Electronics from Lethal Dangers IoT Act to extend the FCC’s covered entities list to include modules in connected devices coming from suspect vendors. A draft version of the measure we obtained proposes requiring the FCC to put suspect IoT modules on the list within one year of its enactment. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., proposed requiring the FCC to “revoke or phase out” existing equipment authorizations for vendors on the covered entities list, which currently bars gear those companies submit only after the commission blacklists them.

Matsui focused on HR-1513, which she refiled last year. The measure passed during the last Congress (see 2112020050). It would direct the FCC to establish a 6G task force that provides recommendations about ensuring U.S. leadership in developing that technology’s standards. “We need to be taking steps to prepare for the next generation of networks because the economic and national security stakes and the global race to 6G couldn't be higher,” she said.

Allen, Dunn and some other Republicans focused on the Promote Secure Connectivity to Taiwan Act. The draft bill would require NTIA to assess “technologies available to increase the security and resiliency” of Taiwan’s communications networks. Dunn and Rep. Troy Balderson, R-Ohio, both invoked concerns about the vulnerability of undersea cables connected to Taiwan given the threat of Chinese sabotage. Dunn suggested that alternatives to the cables, including satellite internet, might be more resilient.