US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a consultation process on a proposal to block smaller operators from using government funds to purchase equipment and services from vendors deemed a national security risk.
The move, announced in a statement, comes after FCC chairman Ajit Pai confirmed in a briefing last month that the regulator had prepared a draft document outlining laws to restrict operators from using money in the FCC’s $8 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to purchase equipment from vendors on a ban list.
Such a move forms part of a wider offensive instigated by the US government, stepping up regulations against Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. This week, the US Department of Commerce banned US companies from selling components to ZTE, while Huawei’s efforts to establish a foothold in the US have also been thwarted.
Operators accessing the USF tend to be the country’s tier two and three operators, which target rural parts of the US. The country’s big four operators (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile US) are already barred from using ZTE and Huawei equipment.
The FCC said it is now seeking comment on the proposal to prohibit the use of government funds, stating it “alone cannot safeguard our networks from these threats”.
Comments are being sought on “a number of issues”, including: how best to implement the proposal going forward; what types of equipment and services should be covered by the rule; how the FCC can identify, and USF recipients learn, which suppliers are covered by the proposed rule; and the cost and benefits of the move.
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that she would vote to approve the proposal as it supports Congress’ concerns “about the potential for supply chain vulnerability to undermine national security”.
She added communications networks also face “other security threats that we cannot continue to ignore”.