The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to ban all sales of new Huawei and ZTE telecommunications devices in the U.S. on national security grounds, according to a document posted by the agency. The move marks the first time the FCC has banned electronic equipment on national security grounds.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated the document outlining the ban among the other three commissioners for final approval last week.
“The FCC remains committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders, and we are continuing that work here,” Rosenworcel said in a statement to CNN.
The restrictions would also apply to video surveillance gear made by three other Chinese firms: Hytera, Hikvision, and Dahua.
However, the ban, which still needs to be voted on, is not retroactive and will only apply to new products made by the Chinese companies that have not already received prior FCC authorization.
The move by the FCC marks the culmination of years of warnings from security researchers, analysts, and intelligence agencies that the Chinese government could use Chinese-made telecommunications equipment to spy on Americans.
The FCC previously barred U.S. companies from using federal taxpayer funds to purchase equipment from these firms.
In June 2021, the FCC voted to begin considering a ban on all equipment authorizations from Chinese companies deemed national security threats, including Huawei and ZTE.
That came after a March 2021 designation of five Chinese companies on the so-called “covered list” for posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks.
Separately, in 2019, the Trump administration added Huawei to the Commerce Department’s so-called Entity List, which restricts exports to people and organizations named on the list without a U.S. government license.
The following year, the U.S. government expanded on those restrictions by seeking to cut Huawei from its chip suppliers using US-made technology.
The FCC must hold its final vote on the ban before the first anniversary of the passage of the bipartisan Secure Equipment Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law on November 11, 2021.
That law required the FCC to ban equipment sales by companies that pose an “unacceptable risk to the national security” of the U.S.
Smaller telecommunications providers will bear the brunt of the costs from this ban, as they favor the Chinese companies’ products thanks to their lower prices. None of the major U.S. telecommunications providers use Chinese-made equipment.
Huawei’s founder and CEO has previously stated his company would never hand data over to the Chinese government. Still, security experts say that the country’s national security and intelligence laws require Chinese companies to comply with demands for information.
Huawei or ZTE have not issued statements on the recent news of the proposed ban, but Hikvision has criticized the restrictions.
“Hikvision presents no security threat to the United States,” a company spokesperson told Axios in a statement. “There is no technical or legal justification for why Hikvision should be impacted by the forthcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules.”