There has been a lot of questions over the validity of Chinese hardware existing in the West, led by the United States. The worry comes from the close relationship between some of the big tech companies and the Communist government that controls China. This concern has covered everything from $200 phones and laptops to million-dollar cellular network hardware. While the future of the relationship between US and Chinese companies is still in question for consumer goods, the Federal Communications Commission has decided on network hardware.
The FCC has voted unanimously to ban Huawei and ZTE hardware from being purchased under the commission's Universal Service Fund (USF). This fund is used to subsidize installations to provide service to low income and hard to serve areas, which would likely never turn a profit on their own. The ban currently prevents companies using this fund from purchasing hardware from the two named companies, but also provides a mechanism for evaluating other manufacturers for future bans. It could also require the removal of existing hardware from these manufacturers in the future.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said of the decision,
(Huawei and ZTE) have close ties to China's Communist government and military apparatus. Both companies are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country's intelligence services and to keep those requests secret. Both companies have engaged in conduct like intellectual property theft, bribery, and corruption.
While the move is entirely about the security of voice and data transmitted across networks built using government subsidies, at least one Commissioner is concerned that the topic could get pulled into the greater story of global trade with China. Jessica Rosenworcel said,
When the United States government pursues action against Huawei or ZTE, its objective should be security. But in Washington right now, I fear these issues can easily get swept up into broader trade matters. Despite our actions today, we have to grapple with the fact that at any moment the administration could trade away our security objectives for some momentary advantage in bilateral trade negotiations. I hope that does not occur, but let's be honest, it has happened before, when this administration reversed course on banning ZTE from doing business in the United States. If it happens again, it will have serious consequences for our credibility.
The credibility of the FCC, especially in security matters, is an important one right now. With the greater security threat from China growing, and the topic of data security and privacy at the forefront of everyone's mind, standing strong on security is essential. Hopefully, Commissioner Rosenworcel's fears won't be realized.