Small ISPs Being Forced To Eat The Costs Of FCC's Huawei Ban
from the do-as-we-say,-not-as-we-do dept
We’ve repeatedly noted that while Huawei certainly engages in some clearly sketchy shit (like many modern US telecom giants), the evidence supporting the Trump administration’s global blacklist of the company has been lacking. Despite more than a decade of accusations and one eighteen month investigation that found nothing, the Trump administration still hasn’t provided any public evidence supporting the central justification for the global blackballing effort (that Huawei works directly for the Chinese government to spy wholesale on Americans).
While there’s certainly some valid natsec concerns in the mix when it comes to letting an authoritarian government dominate global network builds, at least some portion of the effort appears to be protectionism driven by US network hardware makers that simply don’t want to compete with cheaper Chinese gear. Some of the effort is also Trump trying to obtain leverage for his often ridiculous tariff and trade war, which at least, for some advocates, is driven more by partisan patty cake or bigotry than substantive reason.
Regardless, the US effort to blackball Huawei from all global technology networks continues apace, without much concern about (1) the lack of public evidence, (2) the fact that the United States routinely does most of the stuff we’re accusing China of, and (3) much of this pearl clutching has been co-opted by US companies that simply want to avoid international competition (especially in the smartphone and 5G network realm), but have had great lobbying success disguising those motivations under the guise of national security hyperventilation.
There are other problems with the campaign as well. This week the FCC formally announced it would be banning companies that take taxpayer subsidies from using any Huawei or ZTE hardware in their networks. At the moment, the ban just prohibits them from buying new Chinese gear or maintaining it, but the FCC may expand eventually to forcing these ISPs to remove existing gear entirely. Smaller telecom and broadband providers were quick to note that they’re not exactly thrilled:
“As a result, rural carriers who have deployed Huawei or ZTE equipment or services in their networks will now lack the ability to support their critical networks that are serving hundreds of thousands of rural Americans and those traveling through rural America. Given the difficulty in demonstrating where specifically their USF support is being utilized in their networks, this puts rural carriers in a precarious situation while they strive to offer extended payment terms for their customers as requested by FCC Chairman [Ajit] Pai, adjust to the fallout of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and continue to keep rural Americans connected to broadband and telephone services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Smaller carriers state that while the FCC is granting waivers, they didn’t give carriers enough time to apply. And while there was also talk about helping fund these network gear removal and replacement efforts, that money appears lost in regulatory and legislative purgatory, according to FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Sparks:
“Funding is the missing piece. Congress recognized in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act that many carriers will need support to transition away from untrustworthy equipment, but it still has not appropriated funding for replacements. I look forward to working with Congress and my colleagues to ensure there are sufficient funds to get the job done.”
In the interim small ISPs have to apparently just eat those costs, at the same time they’re being expected to maintain connectivity during a pandemic, which is… not great. Of course broadband subsidization has a long, ugly history where we throw billions at giant companies for doing less than nothing. Here we have the small businesses US leaders routinely pay ample lip service toward being forced to (for now) foot the bill for policy that doesn’t seem fully thought out.
None of this is to suggest that the Chinese government and Huawei don’t engage in terrible behavior. They do. But the US approach of a blanket global blacklisting is a cumbersome, evidence-optional mess. The UK and Germany have kicked back a bit against the US approach, arguing that existing security standards (where you judge the safety of each piece of hardware based on its actual lack of security or vulnerabilities) makes a lot more sense than a cumbersome, global blackballing effort based at least in part on protectionism, and so far justified by very little in the way of hard, public evidence.
There’s also the hypocrisy of a country that routinely engages in all manner of sketchy global surveillance lecturing other countries on sketchy global surveillance. Can you imagine if other countries began blacklisting AT&T for the fact it’s effectively bone grafted to the NSA? The amount of patriotic pearl clutching from fans of the blackballing effort would easily make your head spin. There’s an underlying logic at play that because the US does it, it must be good, and the “do as we say, not as we do” messaging at play here gives off a ripe stink of hypocrisy.