Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Is Chinese broadband equipment a national security threat?

The Federal Communications Commission is proceeding with plans to stop telecommunications companies from buying equipment from foreign countries considered a security threat, and in some cases rip out existing equipment. That would have an outsized impact on rural America, which disproportionately relies on tech from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. But is such equipment a real security threat?

Christopher Mitchell, who monitors community broadband at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told NPR Marketplace's Jack Stewart that the FCC's plans may be justified. The gear lasts from three to five years, and many networks will upgrade in the next few years anyway. "In some ways, it’s an opportunity for some," Mitchell said. "I certainly think that there’s a real threat if we’re expecting these rural providers that operate on very thin margins, if we’re going to force them to bear the cost of ripping that out, then I think that’s the mistake. But ripping it out to me seems reasonable in a number of cases."

Mitchell told Stewa that China has been essentially subsidizing broadband buildout in rural America by selling the equipment so inexpensively, and said the U.S. government must step in and provide more funding.

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