On Feb. 27, the Senate passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 sending the bill to President Trump’s desk.

The legislation, among other provisions, offers $1 billion in funding to aid smaller telecommunications providers to rip out and replace equipment from Chinese firms, such as Huawei and ZTE. The bill also cements a ban on using Federal funds to purchase or maintain telecommunications equipment of services from “untrusted suppliers.”

“Telecommunications equipment from certain foreign adversaries poses a significant threat to our national security, economic prosperity, and the future of U.S. leadership in advanced wireless technology,” Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said. “By establishing a ‘rip and replace’ program, this legislation will provide meaningful safeguards for our communications networks and more secure connections for Americans.”

The bipartisan legislation will:

  • “Prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from subsidizing the acquisition or maintenance of telecommunications equipment or services from untrusted suppliers.
  • Create a program to reimburse telecommunications providers with fewer than two million customers. These providers will remove equipment that poses a national security risk from their networks to replace it with equipment from trusted suppliers.
  • Establish an information sharing program for telecommunications providers, particularly small and rural operators, to obtain information regarding potential security risks and vulnerabilities to their networks.”

The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Wicker, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Mark Warner, D-Va., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. In the House, it was sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., Ranking Member Greg Walden, R-Ore., Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., and Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.

The cosponsors of the House bill praised the Senate for passing the legislation.

“In today’s interconnected world, America’s wireless future depends on having networks that are secure from malicious foreign interference. The existence of Huawei’s technology in our networks represents an immense threat to America’s national and economic security,” Pallone, Walden, Matsui, and Guthrie said. “This bipartisan bill will help communities across the country by bolstering efforts to keep our communications supply chain safe from foreign adversaries and other dangerous actors, while helping small and rural providers remove and replace suspect network equipment.”

Earlier this week at the RSA Security Conference, Katie Arrington, the Defense Department’s CISO for Acquisition, voiced a vigorous defense of U.S. law and policy that bans the Federal government and its contractors from doing business with China-based network equipment maker Huawei.

The legality of that ban – rooted in the company’s alleged close ties with the Chinese government and fears that its network equipment could be used for nefarious purposes by the government – was upheld by a Federal district court judge earlier this month.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.