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FCC to ban all new Huawei and ZTE equipment on national security grounds

A Huawei sign hanging from the ceiling in a conference expo hall.
Enlarge / Huawei sign displayed at CES 2020 in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to “ban all sales of new Huawei and ZTE telecommunications devices in the US” on national security grounds, Axios reported today.

The FCC previously banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from being used in telecom networks that receive subsidies from the Universal Service Fund, but an order proposed by Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel would go further. Citing anonymous sources, Axios reported that it would prevent Huawei and ZTE from getting any new products approved by the FCC.

The FCC declined to provide specific details on the proposal when contacted by Ars today. But the FCC said the proposed order would update and strengthen its “covered list” equipment rules and fulfill a statutory mandate that Congress imposed on the commission in the Secure Equipment Act of 2021.

“The ban is not retroactive, so the companies can continue to sell products that the FCC previously approved… New models or equipment that would need a new FCC approval, however, would be banned,” the Axios article said. The New York Times also reported on the proposed ban.

The FCC’s covered list applies to “communications equipment and services that are deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons.” Rosenworcel issued a statement on the pending proposal, saying, “The FCC remains committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders, and we are continuing that work here.”

FCC could vote on order at any time

The FCC’s list of items on circulation includes the proposed ban, titled, “Protecting Against National Security Threats to the Communications Supply Chain through the Equipment Authorization Program.” It was circulated last week.

Putting an item in circulation lets commissioners vote on it at any time instead of at one of the commission’s monthly meetings. The order’s text would become public after it’s approved.

In addition to Huawei and ZTE, Axios says the proposal would ban video surveillance equipment from three Chinese companies: Hytera, Hikvision, and Dahua. The companies make products for police departments.

It’s not clear whether the Huawei/ZTE portion of the ban affects only network equipment used by telecommunications providers, or if consumer devices like smartphones are included. Radio frequency devices must be authorized by the FCC, so a wide range of devices could be included in the ban. Huawei’s smartphone business has already tanked due to previous US sanctions.

The FCC designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats in 2020.

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