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FCC’s Pai suggests new bans on nasty foreigners

Ajit Pai

New proposals from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to further protect the US people from those nasty foreigners, suggesting a ban on equipment or services from companies that pose a national security threat to the US.

The world is starting to become very small for the increasingly protectionist and paranoid US, which is currently doing all it can to resist that pesky trend known as globalisation. The suggested ban would stop any money from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund being used to buy equipment or services from companies (or nations) which are deemed to be an enemy of the US people. No names or countries were mentioned but it isn’t too difficult to figure out who Pai is sending dirty looks to.

“Threats to national security posed by certain communications equipment providers are a matter of bipartisan concern,” said Pai. “Hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches – and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment – can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more. Although the FCC alone can’t safeguard the integrity of our communications supply chain, we must and will play our part in a government- and industry-wide effort to protect the security of our networks.”

The fund in question, the Universal Service Fund, is a $8.5 billion reserve of cash which is marked for the deployment of networks in areas which are not deemed as commercially attractive. The cash is a nudge in the right direction for those telcos who help bridge the digital divide, acting as a bit of a OPEX buffer to compensate for lost profits.

The protectionism talk should hardly come as a surprise as the last couple of months have seen the US attempt to isolate themselves further in the name of the American dream. Congressman Mike Conaway has already tried to pass legislation which would ban any public sector procurement of Huawei and ZTE services and products, while President Donald Trump’s tariffs will only kick-off a tit-for-tat trade war the country cannot possibly hope to win.

There are questions surrounding the proposal which are yet to be answered. For instance, what happens if a company violates the ban? Does this organization lose all of its funding, will the FCC recover previous funding? What happens if a company is already under contract to purchase services or equipment from a company which is deemed a national security threat – does this company have to break the contract and absorb the financial penalties?

Another glaring area which is yet to be addressed would be how to define a national security threat. While we can all read between the lines and make an assumption that China would be in this bracket, what other nations would get caught up in the net?

Of course, it should be worth noting these are only proposals as it stands. The Commission will have to vote on April 17, and Pai is looking for comments from the industry to refine the proposal. Hopefully someone will point out to the Chairman that the idea of protectionism never actually works.

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