Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel warned in a Jan. 17 speech that the deployment of fifth-generation (5G) wireless communications networks involves big security and privacy challenges.

“5G connectivity can lay down a foundation for digital transformation around the globe. We are fast heading to a world where next-generation wireless networks connect everyone and everything around us, they will open up possibilities for communications that we can’t even fully imagine,” Rosenworcel said during her keynote at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

“But networks connecting so much more in our lives will mean a broader attack surface for cyber events,” she said.

Rosenworcel also explained that the slew of advantages that will come from 5G technology reveal broader geopolitical challenges.

“The United States and authoritarian regimes have different views on how to use 5G technology,” she said, emphasizing that “the vision that succeeds in a global forum … will inform how networks are deployed and evolve around the world.”

Considering these challenges, the FCC has initiated a series of actions to meet this security imperative, including:

  • Improving coordination with other agencies on critical infrastructure security and updating an FCC-State Department process to approve licenses for undersea cables;
  • Adding foreign firms such as Huawei, ZTE, China Telecom, Pacific Networks, and Kaspersky Lab to the Covered List created in 2019 to restrict their ability to operate in the U.S. due to national security concerns;
  • Launching a program for U.S. telecom providers to remove and replace network gear purchased from Huawei and ZTE, backed with $1.9 billion in government funding.
  • Supporting the development of open radio access networks to replace those systems, backed with $1.5 billion in funding from the CHIPS and Science Act.
  • Using authority under the Secure Equipment Act of 2021 to ban the import and sale of telecom and video surveillance hardware from Huawei and ZTE, with lesser limits on that gear from three other Chinese firms;
  • Addressing security concerns over the integrity of the Emergency Alert System by imposing new cybersecurity requirements on participants in that system;
  • Updating older rules on data-breach disclosures by telecom carriers and foreign ownership of them.

Rosenworcel explained that much of this work is ongoing, but that some of those actions are massively underfunded. She reiterated past requests for Congress to remedy those budget issues. In addition, Rosenworcel called on Congress to renew the FCC’s authorization to free up and auction off spectrum so carriers can expand 5G service offerings.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.