Peters Bipartisan Bill to Protect American Telecommunications Equipment from Foreign Suppliers Passes As Part of Year-End Deal

WASHINGTON, DC – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) to help safeguard American telecommunications equipment against cyber threats from untrusted foreign equipment suppliers passed as part of the year-end deal and is headed to the President’s desk. The Ensuring Network Security Act, which advanced in the Senate last month and that Peters introduced with Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) earlier this year, would expand access to federal funding for telecommunications providers and educational institutions for the removal and replacement of prohibited telecommunications equipment from dangerous sources. This follows a letter Peters and Johnson wrote in July to Senate leaders regarding the need to prioritize removal of high-risk equipment from untrusted foreign suppliers.

“We must have reliable, affordable telecommunications grids that can endure national security and economic challenges especially as we are increasingly interconnected during this pandemic,” said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Commerce, Science and Technology Committee. “I’m pleased this bipartisan legislation passed as part of the year end deal because it will help strengthen network security for people across Michigan and our country. It will further transition our country from relying on foreign telecommunications equipment while incentivizing and encouraging domestic suppliers.”

“Northern Michigan University is pleased that Senator Peters’ legislation – Ensuring Network Security Act -- is included in the COVID aid legislation,” said NMU President Fritz Erickson. “We are also gratified that $1.9 billion is allocated by Congress to the FCC Rip and Replace program.  Congress’s attention to these important issues will help NMU ensure that its Educational Access Network is secure and utilizes the most up-to-date technology available. The EAN provides robust, high speed internet to more than 113 communities across rural Upper Michigan. It’s critically important that rural Michigan has safe and secure internet.”

“Congress took an important step to support secure networks in fully funding the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and the inclusion of the Ensuring Network Security Act will make sure that sufficient funding is provided first to smaller carriers and providers serving high cost areas,” said Steven K. Berry, President & CEO, Competitive Carriers Association. “I thank Senator Peters, Senator Johnson, Congressman Butterfield, and Congressman Kinzinger for their work to recognize that the reimbursement program is absolutely essential to ensure that smaller carriers can continue to provide critical broadband services to their customers while removing equipment deemed untrustworthy.”

The Ensuring Network Security Act would allow telecommunications carriers that service up to ten million customers and public and private educational institutions to apply for this funding through the Federal Communications Commission. The bill builds off the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act signed into law earlier this year, which prohibits telecommunications companies from installing equipment from untrusted suppliers and formed a program to reimburse telecommunications providers serving under two million customers.

Peters has led numerous efforts to bolster American cybersecurity. The Senate passed Peters’ bipartisan legislation to promote stronger cybersecurity coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local governments. Recently he introduced bipartisan legislation that would increase transparency and modernize how the government responds to cybersecurity incidents on federal information systems. Following the massive, sophisticated, ongoing cyber-attacks against our federal agencies, U.S. companies, and some state governments, Peters and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) — who both will lead the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee next year — issued a joint statement pressing for immediate action to stop the attacks and ensure our systems are secure. They pledged to work together on bipartisan, comprehensive cybersecurity legislation to strengthen our cyber defenses. Peters also introduced bipartisan legislation to implement stronger cybersecurity protections for K-12 educational institutions across the country. Schools are responsible for securing a considerable amount of sensitive records related to their students and employees, including student grades, family records, medical histories, and employment information.

Peters also secured and supported measures to strengthen our cyber defenses in the national defense bill that passed Congress and is awaiting the President’s signature. It includes an amendment authored by Peters, requiring the President to create a plan for bolstering the economy during a major incident, such as a cyber-attack or pandemic. It also includes an amendment Peters authored to direct the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force to create a pilot program to enable the National Guard to remotely support other state guards and governments during cyber incidents. The bill also included a provision based on a bipartisan bill Peters helped introduce to ensure that each state has its own Cybersecurity Coordinator, who would be responsible for helping to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats by working with federal, state, and local governments as well as schools, hospitals, utilities and other entities at risk of cyber-attacks.