The House voted Dec. 16 to approve legislation that would provide $1 billion to smaller-sized private sector communications service providers to remove from their networks equipment purchased from China-based equipment makers Huawei and ZTE, and replace that gear with equipment that does not pose a threat to U.S. national security.

The bill – the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act (H.R. 4998) – was approved by voice vote. The measure has clear bipartisan support in the backing of sponsor Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the committee’s ranking member. The legislation does not yet appear to have a Senate companion bill.

The legislation would charge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with administering the $1 billion replacement program. Eligible service providers would be those with fewer than two million customers, and those that purchased Huawei or ZTE network equipment prior to August 2018. The bill relies on the determination that equipment made by those companies poses an “unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security because of their close ties to the Chinese government.

The measure also makes room for further equipment makers to be added to that list, and expresses particular concern with equipment that can route or redirect user data traffic, permit visibility into data packets, or cause remote disruption to networks.

The House bill dovetails with recent action by the FCC to bar the use of Universal Service Fund (USF) money to pay for equipment and services supplied by Huawei and ZTE, to survey U.S. providers to determine the extent to which they use the Chinese products and services, and conduct a rulemaking that seeks public comment on how to pay for removal of those products and services.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.