Ahead of vote on Huawei, FCC commissioner says U.S. isn’t ready for 5G security

Mobile phones with 5G are displayed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February.
(Joseph Lago / AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. lacks a national strategy for telecommunications security, a member of the Federal Communications Commission said as the agency prepared to ban some federal spending on Huawei Technologies Co. equipment, which U.S. authorities have deemed a security threat.

“We don’t have a comprehensive effort. We need one,” Jessica Rosenworcel, one of five FCC commissioners, said in a meeting Thursday with Bloomberg reporters and editors in Washington.

The FCC is scheduled to vote Friday on preventing federal subsidy funds from being spent on Huawei gear. But that follows the Commerce Department’s approving some suppliers’ applications for licenses to do business with the Chinese gearmaker.

Huawei has denied it’s a threat.

Ren Zhengfei turned a company with no intellectual property into the world’s largest telecom and made China a global leader in 5G technology. Washington says he had help from Beijing.

“Now, these issues are complicated, but it does not seem to me that the right hand is always talking to the left,” said Rosenworcel, the senior Democrat on the Republican-majority FCC.

A bipartisan group of 15 senators sent a letter Thursday to President Trump requesting “immediate action to suspend the approval” of licenses allowing some U.S. firms to conduct business with Huawei.


Providing licenses would allow “Huawei to continue to pose a serious threat to U.S. telecommunications infrastructure and national security more broadly,” the lawmakers said.

Rosenworcel said the U.S. is “heading into this digital 5G future with something less than a fully coordinated effort. And I’m afraid that what we’re doing this week just sort of reflects that.”

She called for “a lot more planning from the top.”

FCC spokeswoman Tina Pelkey disagreed, saying, “The United States government is demonstrating strong and coordinated leadership on 5G security.”

She cited Friday’s planned Huawei vote and an agreement with other countries for a common approach to the company.

“This administration and FCC are doing far more to protect our nation’s communications networks from the threats posed by companies like Huawei than the prior administration and FCC,” Pelkey said.

Senators from both parties said they’re concerned there’s a lack of a coherent strategy for 5G — the term used for the next generation of communications that will keep vehicles, homes, gadgets and factories connected to fast internet signals. In a Nov. 18 letter, the lawmakers asked for “a senior leader” to coordinate efforts and parry a “strategic threat” from China.

Rosenworcel cited the letter as evidence in her criticism.

“I think the United States is resting on its 4G laurels,” Rosenworcel said. “But I don’t think that that success in the past means we will be successful in the future. We need an all-hands effort across the administration and the economy, and I just don’t see evidence of that.”