A group of bipartisan senators on Tuesday introduced legislation to help create alternatives to Chinese firm Huawei in the rollout of 5G wireless technology, amid administration pressure on the telecommunications company.
The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, sponsored by lawmakers including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.), would promote research into new U.S. 5G alternatives by requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set aside $750 million for a research and development fund.
The legislation would also create a $500 million “Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund” at the Treasury Department, with the funds available for ten years to help encourage the adoption of “trusted and secure equipment” worldwide.
“The widespread adoption of 5G has the potential to transform the way we do business, but also carries significant national security risks,” Burr said in a statement on Tuesday. “Those risks could prove disastrous if Huawei, a company that operates at the behest of the Chinese government, military, and intelligence services, is allowed to take over the 5G market unchecked.”
Warner, who co-founded wireless group Nextel prior to serving in the Senate, said in a separate statement that “every month that the U.S. does nothing, Huawei stands poised to become the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous global provider of 5G, while U.S. and Western companies and workers lose out on market share and jobs.”
He added that “it is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose.”
Other sponsors of the bill include Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
The bill was introduced after months of bipartisan pushback against the use of Huawei products by the U.S. federal government, with members of Congress and other officials citing concerns around a Chinese law that requires all Chinese-based companies to assist with intelligence work.
The State Department has urged allied countries not to use Huawei equipment in their networks, particularly involving the rollout of 5G, with some limited success in countries including Poland, which the U.S. signed a 5G technology agreement with last year.
Menendez said in a statement that efforts by the Trump administration to “lecture” allies about the security risks of using Huawei equipment is “no replacement for the development of 5G alternatives.”
“This bill, which will supply the U.S. government with resources to help the private sector create viable 5G alternatives from all ends of the supply chain, is a long overdue step in the right direction,” Menendez added. “As I’ve said over and over again, confronting China is not the same as being competitive with China. It is time we do just that.”
There were stringent measures taken in 2019 to keep Huawei out of U.S. federal networks. The Commerce Department added Huawei to its “entity list,” with U.S. companies banned from doing business with groups on that list. But the formal addition of Huawei to the list has since been delayed multiple times.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by President Trump in December, banned the Commerce Department from pulling Huawei off the entity list without providing evidence that it no longer poses a national security threat. The 2019 NDAA also took steps against federal agency use of Huawei products.
The FCC added to Huawei’s woes in November, when the commission unanimously voted to designate Huawei as a national security threat, and ban U.S. companies from buying equipment using FCC funds from all groups deemed national security threats.
The company has continuously pushed back against allegations that it poses a threat to telecommunications security, with Huawei saying in response to the FCC’s decision that its designation as a threat was “based on selective information, innuendo, and mistaken assumptions.”
Groups including Verizon, AT&T, and VMware all expressed support for the new legislation on Tuesday on the grounds that it would promote securing the telecommunications industry.
“The security of America's communications networks is an essential component in ensuring our nation's economic leadership, now and in the future,” Robert Fisher, the senior vice president of federal government relations at Verizon, said in a statement. “It requires all of us -- the industry, the government and those who live and work here – collaborating on efforts to build and maintain smart and secure communications.”