US lawmakers vote to tighten restrictions on Huawei, ZTE

The measure would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from reviewing or issuing new equipment licenses to companies on the FCC's "Covered Equipment or Services List." PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States Senate voted unanimously on Thursday (Oct 28) to approve legislation to prevent companies which are deemed security threats - such as Huawei Technologies or ZTE Corp - from receiving new equipment licences from US regulators.

The Secure Equipment Act, the latest effort by the US government to crack down on Chinese telecommunications and technology companies, was approved last week by the US House on a 420-4 vote and now goes to US President Joe Biden for his signature.

"Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei and ZTE are known national security threats and have no place in our telecommunications network," Republican Senator Marco Rubio said.

The measure would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reviewing or issuing new equipment licences to companies on the FCC's Covered Equipment or Services List.

In March, the FCC designated five Chinese companies as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting US communications networks.

The affected companies included the previously designated Huawei and ZTE, as well as Hytera Communications, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology and Zhejiang Dahua Technology.

The FCC in June had voted unanimously to advance a plan to ban approval for equipment in US telecommunications networks from those Chinese companies, even as lawmakers pursued legislation to mandate it.

The FCC vote in June drew opposition from Beijing.

"The United States, without any evidence, still abuses national security and state power to suppress Chinese companies," Mr Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at China's Foreign Ministry, said in June.

Under proposed rules that won initial approval in June, the FCC could also revoke prior equipment authorisations issued to Chinese companies.

A spokesman for Huawei, which has repeatedly denied it is controlled by the Chinese government, declined to comment Thursday but in June called the proposed FCC revision "misguided and unnecessarily punitive".

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the commission has approved more than 3,000 applications from Huawei since 2018.

Mr Carr said on Thursday that the Bill "will help to ensure that insecure gear from companies like Huawei and ZTE can no longer be inserted into America's communications networks".

On Tuesday, the FCC voted to revoke the authorisation for China Telecom's US subsidiary to operate in the US, citing national security concerns.

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