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Rural Carriers Concerned

Huawei, CTA Say FCC Can't Use CALEA to Impose Supply-Chain Rules

The record shows new supply chain rules designed to protect U.S. networks are both “legally unsound and factually unjustified,” Huawei replied to the FCC. Commissioners approved rules 5-0 in November barring equipment from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE in networks funded by the USF, and sought comment on whether to expand the prohibition (see 1911220033). In initial comments last month, industry groups raised concerns (see 2002040047), and replies appeared in docket 18-89 through Wednesday. Last week, the Senate passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (HR-4998).

Other commenters “correctly rejected” the FCC’s assertion of authority under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), Huawei said. “CTIA, NCTA, and USTelecom, all urge the Commission to refrain from acting in the area of national security.” Others agree the proposed rule is “overbroad, imposes extreme burdens, and lacks any reasonable cost-benefit justification,” the company said.

CTA agreed CALEA doesn’t give the authority the FCC needs to act. “It would take an extreme interpretive stretch, dangerously lacking any discernible limiting principle, to read into CALEA an implicit authority to regulate the supply chain for purposes of preventing surveillance by foreign intelligence actors. On its face, that is simply not what CALEA authorizes,” the group said: “An assertion of such dubious and apparently unlimited authority under CALEA would undermine and disrupt the FCC’s and the broader U.S. government’s efforts to secure the [equipment] supply chain, and would damage the partnership between industry and government needed to make these efforts effective.”

If the FCC requires carriers to replace equipment, those changes must be fully funded, the Rural Wireless Association said. “Any replace-and-remove mandate should apply to entire systems, not just specific pieces.” Commenters agree changes should be phased in over a number of years, the group said. Industry needs clarity on “the scope of any equipment replacement mandate,” the association said.

The Competitive Carriers Association urged “careful, deliberative approach.” Congress needs to be involved in a replacement program, the group said: “A Congressional solution is the most robust, legally sound option.” The FCC needs to allow for flexibility, CCA said. “We appreciate the vital importance of securing America’s communications infrastructure and supply chain quickly and completely, but have warned that a ‘rapid and rigid’ approach will disrupt delivery of important services" and unnecessarily increase costs, the group said.

The Rural Wireless Broadband Coalition urged “a long runway” to give carriers time to replace equipment in their networks. All costs should be reimbursed, the coalition said. The program should be “designed to encourage American-based companies to develop common engineering standards and virtualized 5G core network components that will sever any continuing reliance on covered companies’ equipment” and shouldn’t interfere with carriers’ ability to “maintain and repair existing equipment, to continue providing existing services, and to construct new cell sites,” the group said.

NTCA urged caution. “Commenters universally supported the commission’s proposal to make the requirement to remove and replace covered equipment and services contingent upon funding,” the group commented.