State, local govts in the US continues buying telecom gears from China despite warnings

State, local govts in the US continues buying telecom gears from China despite warnings.Source: Shutterstock

State, local govts in the US continue buying telecom gears from China despite warnings

  • A new academic report shows state and local governments across the US have continued buying telecommunication gears from China despite federal efforts to block them.
  • At least 1,681 US state and local entities bought equipment and services from Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera between 2015 and 2021, new study shows.

For almost a decade, US national security authorities have warned that information and communications technology and services (ICTs) produced by Huawei, ZTE, and other tech companies from China, may serve as conduits for government espionage and other nefarious activities. Based on those grounds, policymakers have tirelessly sought to purge all untrustworthy technology from the US supply chains.

In fact, over the last five years, the federal government has enacted a series of measures regulating the purchase of ICTs from China on the grounds of national security. Unfortunately, a new academic study has found that local and state governments in the US have continued to buy Chinese telecoms gear despite Washington’s efforts to have them excluded from their supply chains entirely,

Released just weeks after reports that the US Federal Communications Commission will vote to block all new sales of Huawei and ZTE telecoms equipment on national security grounds, the findings by George Washington University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology shows that between 2015 and 2021, at least 1,681 state and local entities bought equipment and services from Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera.

To top it off, only five states — Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Vermont — have enacted some measures to limit procurement of such equipment on national security grounds, though the report warns loopholes still exist in some of those states. In that period of seven years, the total value of the technology and services procured from the five Chinese companies was about US$45 million.

The report highlights in detail that public schools districts, colleges and universities account for three-quarters of the purchases, and prisons, public hospitals and public transit systems have also bought gear. Although the number of transactions has fallen since 2018, according to the report, there were still more than 600 procurements in 2021 and there is no indication the transactions have stopped.

The report’s co-author Jack Corrigan, who is also a research analyst at CSET, noted that the purchases covered a wide range of products, including smartphones, surveillance cameras and networking equipment. “The largest buyer, a mid-size public university in Michigan, invested more than US$15 million in Huawei networking equipment and services during the seven-year period. Two public school districts in Arkansas each spent more than US$1 million dollars on Hikvision surveillance systems,” he added.

Experts have long argued that since Chinese telecom equipment is generally less expensive than gear from non-Chinese companies, it is an appealing procurement option for cash-strapped local US agencies. To top it off, local US agencies also often lack the in-house technical expertise and procedures to understand and address the threats posed by foreign technology, even the ones highly-spoken about from China.

Now, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to ban all sales of new Huawei and ZTE telecom equipment in the US based on a report earlier this month, we will have to wait and see if that ban, that would cover state and local entities, would be a success. Apparently, the FCC will also determine the scope of a ban on video surveillance equipment sales used for public safety, which would eventually affect the other three Chinese companies, Hikvision, Dahua, and Hytera.