FCC proposes more restrictions on Huawei, ZTE equipment

The move is meant to protect US networks and supply chains.

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Huawei's flagship store in Shanghai

Huawei's flagship store in Shanghai.

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The Federal Communications Commission proposed on Thursday to further limit purchases of equipment from Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies deemed a risk to national security. It's the latest move by the US government to limit the use of Chinese providers of 5G wireless and other technologies. 

The FCC voted unanimously to move forward with the proposed ban, which would prohibit all future authorizations of telecommunications and video surveillance equipment from five companies deemed a security threat. The proposal also weighs whether to revoke prior authorizations, meaning affected equipment would need to be removed from networks.

"We are taking direct action to exclude untrusted equipment and vendors from communications networks both at home and abroad," FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

A Huawei representative called the FCC's action "misguided and unnecessarily punitive."  He added, "Blocking the purchase of equipment, based on a 'predictive judgement,' related to country of origin or brand is without merit, discriminatory and will do nothing to protect the integrity of U.S. communications networks or supply chains."

ZTE didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The agency's move Thursday is part of a greater effort by the United States government to crack down on China's role in US telecommunications, amid worry that equipment or services operated by Chinese companies with close ties to the Chinese government could be used for espionage against Americans.

Like the Trump administration before him, US President Joe Biden is taking a tougher stance regarding China's role as a leader in 5G wireless technology and the country's use of technology to surveil its citizens. 

National security agencies have warned of the dangers of using gear from China's Huawei and ZTE. They've also warned against letting Chinese telecommunications companies have operations in the US. Politicians on Capitol Hill have been sounding the alarm, too.

Rosenworcel said the FCC's Thursday proposal was intended to secure US networks.

"Insecure network equipment can undermine our 5G future, providing foreign actors with access to our communications," she said. "This, in turn, may mean the ability to inject viruses and malware in our network traffic, steal private data, engage in intellectual property theft, and surveil companies and government agencies."

The FCC will be taking public comment on the proposal before it goes for a final vote at the agency.