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Senate passes bill banning government purchases of Huawei gear

Bill targets companies deemed to pose a threat to US national security.

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The US government would be barred from purchasing gear from companies deemed a national security risk under legislation approved by the Senate on Thursday.

Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

The US Senate unanimously approved legislation on Thursday that would prohibit government agencies from using federal funds to purchase telecommunications equipment from companies considered to be a threat to national security, The Hill reported Thursday. The Secure and Trusted Telecommunications Networks Act would make it illegal to purchase gear from Huawei and ZTE.

The bipartisan bill, which passed the House of Representatives in December, bars the FCC from using the funds to help carriers purchase equipment from those companies. It also would require the FCC to create a $1 billion fund to help smaller carriers remove and replace any "suspect network equipment."

The legislation is "critical" to protect America's wireless networks from "malicious foreign interference," said sponsors Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey), Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and Reps. Doris Matsui (D-California) and Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky).

Huawei criticized the bill as not addressing the most pressing network security issues.

"The legislation that was just passed is considerably underfunded, would take longer than anticipated and could put at risk some of our customers, who serve the most underserved areas," Huawei said in a statement. "This legislation will simply reduce the ability of broadband providers to provide the most secure network equipment and in turn hurt local consumers and businesses."

The FCC had similarly voted unanimously in November to bar use of its $8.5 million a year Universal Service Fund to purchase equipment and services from Chinese providers Huawei and ZTE.

The US has long alleged that Huawei and ZTE maintain tight relationships with the Chinese government, creating fear that equipment from these manufacturers could be used to spy on other countries and companies. The Commerce Department blacklisted Huawei following a May executive order from President Donald Trump that effectively banned the company from US communications networks. Huawei and ZTE deny that their gear can be used for spying.

The bill now moves to Trump for approval, which he's expected to give.