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Huawei Threat Is Already Here, FCC Commissioner Starks Says


The Trump administration has big concerns about Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Here's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Fox News.


MIKE POMPEO: Huawei is an instrument of the Chinese government. They're deeply connected.

MARTIN: So the U.S. government is trying to prevent American companies from buying Huawei's equipment. But what about the equipment that's already being used here in the U.S.? That's what Geoffrey Starks is worried about. He is the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission - or the FCC - and he joins me now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

GEOFFREY STARKS: Good morning. Great to be with you.

MARTIN: Do you have a firm understanding of how much Huawei equipment is currently in the U.S.?

STARKS: I think that's something that we are - all of us - trying to focus on right now, is what is the scope of the problem here? What is the scope of how much Huawei equipment is in our networks right now?

And a lot of the focus has been on correcting the amount of Huawei infrastructure that is currently in our networks going forward. The issue that I want to focus on is - we know that Huawei has a position already in a number of small, rural carrier's networks already. And we need to focus on that issue.

MARTIN: So I want to get to your prescription. But when you talk about Huawei equipment being used in these rural networks, how so? How is it employed?

STARKS: It can be deployed in a number of different manners. It can - we know for a number of the wireless networks that it is in their very core. It is in their antennas. It is in their radios. It is in how they transmit signals over their networks. And so it is fully deployed in a lot of Huawei equipment fully throughout these small, rural carriers.

MARTIN: And so it would be your concern that this equipment could be - could be manipulated for surveillance by the Chinese government? I mean, is that your worry?

STARKS: I think there are two main concerns that folks have. I think the first risk is, of course, that there could be some espionage. The second concern is that there would be an ability by Huawei, through the Chinese - and the Chinese government - to disrupt or disable some of our communication networks, particularly in times of a national emergency.

MARTIN: So you wrote in an op-ed in The Hill that you want all this equipment removed. As you noted, the Trump administration is focused on moving forward. But you say the equipment's here; we've got to get rid of it. How would you do that?

STARKS: And that is the crux of the issue that a lot of us - in particular, here at the FCC, where we are in control of the networks - this is a national defense issue. That's what certainly our executive agencies are telling us.

And so I think it's going to be imperative that we come up with a practicable solution that finds it, fixes it and funds it. And by that, I mean making sure that we find the full scope of the Huawei infrastructure that is in our networks that is presenting a vulnerable national security issue, making sure that we fix it. And for the most part, I think that's probably going to be replacing the equipment that presents that security risk.

And then making sure that we fund it - a lot of these small, rural telecommunications carriers are, in fact, operating on a very thin budget. And so I think it is going to be important that we find a way to ultimately be able to help folks make sure that we take care of this security threat. And that most likely is going to mean paying for it.

MARTIN: Right. As you point out, this is a problem these smaller companies didn't create. And so you say the government should be responsible for making them whole after taking this equipment away.

STARKS: I think that's right. Going back to 2012, 2013 and, even more clearly, in 2017, 2018, it has been clear that the U.S. government is growing increasingly uncomfortable with having this Huawei equipment in our network - in our infrastructure.

But a lot of these folks - until the executive order was issued about two weeks ago, which made it completely official that the national security risk was very clearly there, a lot of folks were making the business decision on their own about where they settled on - the fact of were they going to go ahead and purchase for - this equipment. A lot of this equipment was - Huawei has particularly made it very cheap and made it available to a lot of these small, rural carriers. And so we know that there's a lot of it out there.

MARTIN: FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks for us this morning. Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

STARKS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.