Johnson Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Protect American Telecommunications Networks from Threats by Foreign Suppliers

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) announced Tuesday that they introduced bipartisan legislation to help safeguard American telecommunications networks against cyber threats from untrusted foreign equipment suppliers, including those linked to the Chinese government. The Ensuring Network Security Act would specifically expand access to federal “rip and replace” funding for telecommunications providers and educational institutions for the removal and replacement of prohibited telecommunications equipment from dangerous sources, including Huawei and ZTE. The senators wrote a letter last month to Senate leaders regarding the need to prioritize removal of high-risk equipment from untrusted foreign suppliers.

“The vulnerabilities associated with the development and deployment of 5G technology, especially the threat posed by China, are one of the 'generational threats that will shape our nation’s future,' as the FBI recently put it,” said Senator Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “This critical legislation addresses an eligibility issue so that all appropriate telecommunications carriers can access funds to ‘rip and replace’ equipment that poses a national security threat. In our increasingly connected world, it is imperative that 100% of our communications networks are secure, and this bill will help accomplish that.”

“As we become increasingly interconnected – especially during this pandemic – it is vital our telecommunications networks are secured against adversaries like the Chinese government. We must have affordable and reliable telecommunications grids that can withstand national security and economic challenges,” said Senator Peters, ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “This bipartisan bill will further transition our nation away from relying on foreign telecommunications networks that may jeopardize our security – while incentivizing and encouraging domestic suppliers. In doing so, we can strengthen the network security for Michigan.”

“Bad actors would exploit any vulnerability in America's communications networks to undermine our national security. So I want to commend Senator Johnson and Senator Peters for their leadership and work to secure our nation's communications infrastructure,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. “Their legislation would help ensure that America has the world's strongest and most secure 5G networks.”

“Thank you Senator Peters and Senator Johnson for leading on the critical need to fund the replacement of untrustworthy equipment in our telecom networks,” said Geoffrey Starks, FCC commissioner. “In particular, this legislation ensures that America's small carriers will get the targeted help they need to protect their customers, and secure our networks.  It's important for Congress to act now to appropriate the necessary funds so carriers can start replacing their untrustworthy equipment as soon as possible.”

“NTCA appreciates the leadership of Senators Peters and Johnson in introducing a bill to further address the security of the nation’s communications supply chain,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association. “NTCA supports effective steps to manage risks in our national communications networks and is pleased that the bill rightly recognizes the need to ensure providers, particularly our country’s smallest communications companies, using equipment subsequently found to present such risks have the resources to remove and replace prohibited equipment.”

“I thank Senators Peters and Johnson for their continued focus on ensuring that all Americans have access to secure, trusted communications services,” said Steven K. Berry, President and CEO, Competitive Carriers Association. “This legislation unequivocally recognizes that national security threats must be addressed and that there is a need for Congress to fund this priority.  I also appreciate their work to clearly prioritize funding for those most in need, specifically, smaller carriers and providers serving high cost areas.  I look forward to continued work with Congress on these important issues, including fully funding the reimbursement program.”

The bipartisan legislation would allow both telecommunications carriers that service between two to ten million customers and public and private educational institutions to apply for this funding through the Federal Communications Commission. The bill builds off the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, signed into law earlier this year, which prohibits telecommunications companies from installing equipment from untrusted suppliers and formed a program to reimburse telecommunications providers serving under two million customers.