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FCC designates Huawei, ZTE as threats to US national security

The Federal Communications Commission of the United States on Tuesday designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats. The FCC said that telecom operators using the US’s Universal Service Fund for bringing connectivity to rural areas will not be allowed to use public funds to buy equipment from the two companies. This is a part of a long-running campaign by the United States against the Chinese telecom equipment makers.

The US government is trying to get other countries to agree to similar blacklisting efforts, pushing the idea — with some success — that the companies pose surveillance and espionage threats at the pushing of the Chinese government. On June 24, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo name-checked Jio as one of the operators globally “rejecting doing business with tools of the CCP surveillance state, like Huawei”. The US has been fighting against the use of the two companies’ participation in the country’s 5G market. Bipartisan efforts to check the companies’ American presence were ongoing as early as the early 2010s.

This designation comes as a particularly interesting development for India, which finds itself in a geopolitical stalemate with China. Though India approved Huawei and ZTE’s participation in 5G trials, the recent border skirmishes have increased pressure on the government to retaliate. On top of banning TikTok and tens of other Chinese apps, the Times of India reported quoting unnamed sources that government ministers are considering bans on Huawei and ZTE. The Economic Times earlier reported, again quoting unnamed sources, that a BSNL tender would be revoked to prevent Chinese firms from participating. The Universal Service Obligation Fund, India’s equivalent of the US’s Universal Service Fund, in 2019–20 had revenues of around one-eighth of what the US spends every year, and spent less than half of that revenue in that year. It is unclear if USOF spending will be restricted in a similar way.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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