FCC Aims to Ban Bad Actors from Wireless Equipment Authorization Program

UPDATE The FCC voted 5-0 yesterday to propose new rules to ensure that wireless equipment authorizations are not compromised by entities that pose national security concerns. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will start a proceeding to ensure that telecommunications certification bodies (TCBs) and measurement facilities (test labs) that participate in the Commission’s equipment authorization program are not influenced by “untrustworthy actors,” officials said.

TCBs and test labs authorize wireless devices for marketing in the U.S. and those imported into this country. This proceeding would permanently bar entities on the FCC’s Covered List from playing any role in the equipment authorization program. It will also provide the FCC and its national security partners the necessary tools to safeguard the process.  

The FCC already prohibits authorization of communications equipment that has been determined to pose an unacceptable risk to national security, Inside Towers reported. The new rules delegate “significant” responsibilities on entities, TCBs and test labs. The action, proposed earlier this month by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Brendan Carr, seeks to ensure that the FCC’s equipment authorization program meets the challenges posed by ever-changing security and supply chain threats.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes a 10 percent threshold for any lab or TCB with direct or indirect ownership or control by any entity on the Covered List and a five percent reporting threshold. It also seeks comment on whether and how the Commission should consider national security determinations made in other Executive Branch agency lists in establishing eligibility qualifications for FCC recognition of a TCB or a test lab in the agency’s equipment authorization program.

“For decades, the FCC equipment authorization program has been a vital part of ensuring the safety of radiofrequency devices in the United States,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “In fact, we process more than 30,000 new device authorizations every year, resulting in millions of new wireless products. That’s a lot of WiFi routers, sensors, smartphones, and baby monitors. We check them, and other devices that connect using our airwaves, to make sure that they do so safely, without harmful interference, and in a manner that complies with our rules.”

To keep the process moving along, the FCC authorized the use of TCBs. “That means innovators bring their new devices to test labs that produce technical reports assessing their products,” Rosenworcel explained. “Then they take those reports to TCBs. The TCBs, in turn, evaluate this information and determine if the new devices comply with FCC rules. If they do, the TCB can certify the device under the equipment authorization program.”

But Carr said the rules need to be updated and expanded, according to Rosenworcel.

Over the last several years, the U.S. has worked in a bipartisan manner to reorient its approach to serious threats posed by foreign adversaries, noted Carr during the vote. The Communist Party of China (CCP) has a well-documented record of leveraging control over aligned companies, using them to advance the CCP’s maligned goals from surveillance, corporate espionage, [and] IP theft. We’ve seen this in spades in the telecommunications and tech sectors. We’ve taken actions across the network stack, at the device layer, entities like Huawei and ZTE, at the carrier level, China Mobile. The FCC extends these efforts today by taking a look at the system the FCC relies on as part of our process for reviewing/approving all electronics for use in the U.S.” 

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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