FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks talks Huawei and net neutrality

In this week's interview episode, Nilay is joined by Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks and Verge policy reporter Makena Kelly, immediately after the agency's announcement that would approve the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Commissioner Starks could not say much about the proposed merger agreement, but he had a lot to say about a number of other issues that the FCC has jurisdiction to pursue.

Starks was officially confirmed by the United States Senate earlier this year to serve as the FCC commissioner in the Democratic minority. Starks has only been commissioned for a few months, but has already faced tough policy questions. Should Chinese telcos be allowed to operate on US networks? How could the agency ensure that operators such as AT & T and Verizon do not sell customer location data to third parties where they could be held by criminals and bounty hunters?

Starks discussed these questions and more in this week's interview episode of The Vergecas t.

Below is an excerpt from Starks that analyzes the economic and security risks associated with allowing companies like Huawei to access US communications networks. UU


Last week, Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner, called the national security agencies Chinese telecommunications companies that already operate in our networks. It seems you agree with him on that.

I do it. Of course, all this is subject to the DOJ and the telecom team and the executive agency considering whether they consider the same kind of national security problems.

But yes, two weeks ago we did not allow [a license to operate within the US] for China Telecom.

More critically, if China Telecom had been the lowest-cost airline, they could, in fact, have made some communications from US government agencies. UU The executive agency communicated to us the national security concerns they have, with which I agree, we can not allow them to operate in the US. UU Then, China Telecom and China Unicom are the two additional entities that Commissioner Carr mentioned, and it seems that the president plans to present those licenses to us, and I suppose we would have the same standard that we would apply.

So you think it's appropriate here. There are other legislators in the Capitol who are even calling Huawei a spy agency. Do you think this is an adequate measure for the FCC to get involved?

I think it's extremely important. It is up to us. We have a different role to play in the protection of our communication networks under the defense of national security, as well as the security of life and property. I think it is extremely important for us to intervene in the full extent of our authority.

Before the Communications Act of '96, we had a network in which there were several well-established suppliers who trusted each other. . It really was analogous to the feeling of a small city where people leave their doors open at night because there is a lot of confidence in the interconnections that take place there.

Obviously, now with technology, the neighborhood has grown. It's more like a city now. And, of course, we have significantly more connections, more vulnerabilities. A significant number of operators have very good security mechanisms, but there are certainly actors that will take advantage of the vulnerabilities, and the kind of feeling of a small melancholic city of a well-established network is more nostalgic now.

By the year 2025, there will be more than 25 billion IoT devices connected to the network. We have to be focused and fit into our role of national security.

Over the weekend, Google decided to revoke Huawei's Android license.

Well, that's a bit confusing.

The Secretary of Commerce named them on the blacklist. We have seen in the last 24 hours that the Secretary of Commerce has softened a bit, since that is going to have a big impact on so many consumers who have Huawei devices. Are you going to get Android patches? Will they still be in the Android ecosystem? The reverberations are significant, so only in the last 24 hours has it been compressed a bit. Although in the long term, the executive order of the president still stands.

What Google is doing seems to dabble a bit more in the type of trade of the trade and if we are going to allow private actors to have agreements with Huawei and with some of those other companies, but what I am really focused on is to make sure that we have a secure network as possible and that is due to these licenses with the Chinese operators.

This refers to the notice of the supply chain for the proposed standards creation before us, [which] essentially means the Universal Service Fund. The fund that we manage in the FCC is around $ 9 or $ 10 billion, [and the question is] if that fund will allow government funds to flow to some of these Chinese companies. That's something the FCC certainly has authority over.

And then, find out how we can move even further in our national security lane. One thing I think we really need to focus on is that there are a significant number of small rural operators and we are still discovering the extent of this that actually has part of this Chinese infrastructure in their network at this time. And we need to find a way to, you know, find it, fix it, and I think it will finance the reparation aspect of that right.

How do we focus on remedying that and changing the infrastructure?

That's the question I'm thinking, that a lot of people are starting to think. I know that several senators on the hill are also very focused on this. The executive order, the National Defense Authorization Act also tells us that, in the future, we must ensure that we are not allowing part of this infrastructure of Huawei and China to have backdoors and their embedded software.

That is the central question of this. Do you take it as a fact that the Huawei team has back doors?

I do not take it for granted. I take it in the sense of having had people of national security who have told me specifically how they think about it, what our exposure is, what our risks are and how seriously they take the possibility of having back doors in our network.

Obviously Huawei has many teams in Europe, they say: "Look, we are passing all the tests of the allies of the United States". Why do not you trust us? "

And this goes into compensation, and frankly, how some of these small rural operators have thought about this. Since 2012, 2013 and, no doubt, in 2018, there have been clear unofficial warning shots that the United States is becoming more uncomfortable allowing Huawei and ZTE to have their infrastructure here.

We allowed some of those small rural businesses to make the commercial decision about where they would go out in Huawei, which is the cheapest but the highest quality. Where were they on the spectrum of national security and privacy compared to being the cheapest cost provider? Obviously, that is a business decision.

And that's something we've been told. We have spoken with many rural operators and say "our costs will skyrocket now". When you talk about equity, it's a big part.

Now that we have the executive order that was issued on the last day. week, I think it's something I'm really focused on right now.

I'm focused on it. I have my team focused on that. We are thinking about the scope of this problem, how much of this infrastructure will be in question, how much it will cost. "Rip and replace" is what some national security people call it.

It is about achieving, in an integral way, our head that we know that we are not allowed to carry this out prospectively, but retrospectively we know that we have some of this [infrastructure] in the field. I think if the concern for national security is there, we should also focus on that aspect.

And that concern is there.

It's very there for me, and I know it's also a concern of several people in Hill. How are we going to remedy the national security infrastructure that we already have in our networks, in particular with some of these small rural operators?

What could Huawei do to solve it? Is there any way for the company to regain its trust or the confidence of the government?

This is a matter of the whole government. I am the one who makes the decisions in a certain way, but I am not globally the one who makes the decisions. My feeling, being here today, is that it is very difficult to mitigate some of these vulnerabilities. When talking about this company potentially allowing a back door for possible Chinese espionage. I think that is very difficult to mitigate.

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