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To Compete With China On 5G, U.S. Must Leverage Emerging Technologies

Benjamin Kahn

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Jonathan Hillman, far right, at a CSIS event

March 31, 2021—The United States can be a world leader in 5G networks by leveraging emerging technologies such as open radio access networks and low-earth orbit satellites, according to the director of the Reconnecting Asia Project.

Jonathan Hillman, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies, spoke about the tools the United States can use to compete with emerging 5G power, China, during a panel event on Monday. He also discussed a report he co-authored with Laura Rivas called “Global Networks 2030: Developing Economies and Emerging Technologies.”

Hillman analyzed several key trends, technologies, and strategies he believed the U.S. must leverage to take the lead in global 5G deployment. He did this through the lens of what he predicted the global technological and economic landscape may resemble in 2030.

He said for a clear 5G leader to emerge, the U.S. can leverage emerging technologies, such as Open RAN, smart cities, advanced photonics and low-earth orbit satellites.

Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, pointed to Open RAN as an opportunity for the country to lower costs and boost security, as it weans off of foreign suppliers for network equipment.

Recommendations for U.S. leadership

Hillman gave two recommendations for how the U.S. can compete in 5G on the world stage. The first is that it needs to establish a cohesive vision of what it wants global networks to look like in 2030. “We’re living and still learning the consequences of not having done that ten years ago.” Hillman said that the U.S.’s failure to identify the strategic value of global network growth contributed to the U.S. losing its wide technological and manufacturing lead on China.

“Huawei did not emerge [as a 5G leader] overnight,” he said.

He also said that a part of this vision should be that the U.S. needs to begin viewing markets in South-East Asia and Africa as partners, and not customers. Hillman indicated that this would allow for significant collaboration, improved supply chains, and greater security.

Secondly, Hillman said that technical assistance between the U.S. and its allies needs to be a default position, not something that is tacked onto a relationship. “I think there’s an opportunity here to connect these developing markets—who’re going to be experimenting with these technologies themselves, learning their own lessons, and to have them share those lessons with each other.”

Hillman further addresses these points in the complete report, as well as his book, “The Digital Silk Road: China’s Quest to Wire the World and Win the Future.”

China

Loopholes Allowing Private Purchase Of Chinese Goods Must Be Closed: Commissioner Carr

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot taken from CSIS event

April 5, 2021 – Loopholes that allow U.S. companies to use private funds to purchase equipment from Chinese-based companies like Huawei and ZTE should be closed, Federal Communications C Commissioner Brendan Carr said Tuesday.

Carr said last week at a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that while the U.S. government has been able to prevent companies from spending federal dollars on Chinese telecom equipment, legal loopholes still persist that allow companies to use private funds to purchase such equipment, leaving agencies like the FCC helpless in preventing these transactions.

Communist China has made it clear it wants to dominate the global semiconductor and chip market, and it is not opposed to using forced labor to achieve that goals. Be it garage door openers or computers, nothing should be allowed if it has ties to Uighur-related forced labor, Carr said.

“The CCP is committing genocide—crimes against humanity—in Xinjiang,” he noted.

Carr spoke broadly about the continued threats Chinese telecom equipment poses to U.S. national security interests.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the new Biden administration’s strategic vision for U.S. foreign policy and identified China as the top geopolitical challenge facing the United States.

Commissioner Carr said there are bipartisan commitments to address threats from China, and that the FCC can continue to take steps to protect the U.S.’s 5G network infrastructure, including moving to block approval of devices that contain parts made from companies with ties to “Communist China,” or forced labor from places like Xinjiang.

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Free Speech

Telecom Companies Need To Challenge Governments Over Internet Shutdowns: Advocacy Groups

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot from the webinar

March 13, 2021 – Internet shutdowns by governments around the globe are impacting their connectivity-dependent segments, including education and business, and citizens should pressure telecom companies to take action against the authors of those blackouts, experts said Tuesday.

Internet blackouts in countries like Myanmar, India, Iran, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Turkey, and Vietnam has put into focus how the practice of silencing dissent by cutting off social tools has become normalized and is depressing critical educational and business tools.

That’s according to panelists hosted by the Aspen Institute, which were tasked Tuesday with discussing the impacts of the practice.

Adrian Shahbaz, director of non-profit democracy advocate Freedom House, said his agency has tracked a ten-year decline in internet freedom across categories including obstacles to accessing the internet, limits on content, and as violations to user rights.

He said restrictions on social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter, go beyond social interaction, as it has significant collateral implications for those who use those tools to access educational materials and to engage in business with customers and suppliers, among other critical functions.

Sophie Schmidt, founder and CEO of global tech reporting publication Rest of World, said shutdowns are increasingly happening in places that tech literacy is a challenge, adding journalists have been a crucial part of increasing knowledge in these places to improve understanding of what they are up against it.

The more widespread the shutdowns happen, however, the more normal it is, she added.

Felicia Anthonio, a campaigner for digital advocacy non-profit Access Now, said one way to potentially combat shutdowns is for the subject population to pressure the telecom companies to fight against governments on the basis that shutdowns are breaches of contract.

Such a precedent exists: in India, service providers have taken the government to court for violating their terms of service for forcing them to switch off.

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China

FCC February Meeting Targets 911 Fee Diversion and Replacing Foreign Telecommunications Equipment

Tim White

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February 17, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted two proposals in Wednesday’s meeting: Seeking comments on rule changes for 911 fee diversion, and also the secure and trusted network reimbursement program.

The first proposal seeks comment on a 911 fee diversion rule that would define what constitutes a diversion of those funds from their intended use. Part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, passed in December 2020, requires the FCC to issue these rules. Fees from 911 are levied by state and local governments to help pay for the operating costs of emergency services, which consumers pay through their phone bills.

The rule change intends to prevent states from diverting some of those funds for purposes other than 911 operations.

“Both Congress and the commission have long recognized that 911 fees should serve 911 purposes and have worked to combat fee diversion,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

According to the FCC’s 2020 report, five states diverted over 200 million dollars from the 911 fees they collected. The vast majority of fee diversions occur in New York and New Jersey, according to National Emergency Number Association’s Brian Fontes.

The second proposal seeks comment on the secure and trusted network reimbursement program, which subsidizes funds to companies for replacing communications equipment due to national security concerns.

Several of the commissioners expressed concern about Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE technologies being used in the United States due to their ties to the Chinese government.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $1.9 billion to “remove, replace, and dispose of communications equipment and services that pose a national security threat,” said the FCC’s news release.

Both proposals received 4-0 affirmative votes.

Also notable during Wednesday’s meeting was Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s announcement of a new task force to address poor broadband mapping data. Jean Kiddoo was named chair of the task force.

During a press call following the meeting, Rosenworcel said that she supports spectrum sharing, which would allow providers to share space in certain areas of the radio wave spectrum. There are a lot of entities interested in the popular bands of the spectrum, and we need to be creative and efficient in how we use that space, she said.

Rosenworcel’s position conflicts with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade association comprised of many communication companies, which supports exclusive access to parts of the spectrum.

Wednesday’s meeting marks the first FCC meeting chaired by Rosenworcel in her new position as acting chairwoman. She can serve in that position until President Biden puts forward a candidate to serve as chairman or chairwoman, and that candidate is confirmed by the Senate. Because Rosenworcel was already confirmed as a commissioner, she can serve in that role until her term expires.

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