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FCC plans to prevent US government funding from being used to buy from foreign tech firms seen as security threats

NET NEUTRALITY ENEMY the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has plans to ban companies from using government funding to buy tech from foreign firms deemed as a threat to US national security. 

In what might seem like a move fuelled by conspiracy theories, the FCC has the likes of Huawei and ZTE in its sights, with the goal of ensuring US money stays in the pockets of American tech companies. 

The move is also intended to protect US communications networks against state hackers and, although Pai did not name the companies or countries that will be targeted by the order, they are almost certainly intended to shut out Chinese tech vendors like the aforementioned Huawei and ZTE.

Writing in a letter to Congress on Friday, Pai agreed with previous concerns raised by US lawmakers that the hardware produced by Chinese networking equipment makers pose a potential threat to the country’s security.

He warned that “hidden back doors to our networks in routers, switches – and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment – can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more”.

On 17 April, members of the FCC will take a vote on the proposals. And, if they vote in favour, carriers will not be able to use state grants to buy equipment to take part in several public service schemes.

The ban will cover the government’s technology and broadband expansion schemes across rural areas, public libraries, schools and low income households.

Trade industry group, the United States Telecom Association, better known as USTelecom, represents companies such as Verizon, Oracle and CenturyLink, said that its members will respect the ruling, adding that they will “continue working with the FCC and other agencies to address supply chain vulnerability issues”.

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Industry Association said it “strongly supports efforts by the government to address concerns regarding certain communications equipment providers deemed to pose a heightened security risk”.

The news comes as US politicians and lawmakers continue to clamp down on Chinese technology firms whose hardware, they fear, could be used as a Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence. At the start of the year, for example, the US government ordered ATT to cut ties with Huawei.  

In February, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said he was concerned about the “counterintelligence and information security risks that come prepackaged with the goods and services of certain overseas vendors”. 

However, no specific intelligence has been released conclusively linking any one company with the kind of espionage that the FCC and US lawmakers fear. µ



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