Lawmakers ask FCC to probe security risks from Huawei, ZTE

A group of U.S. lawmakers asked the FCC to answer questions about the potential security risks posed to the country's telecommunications infrastructure by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. The development is the latest in a series of moves that have ratcheted up tensions over whether Huawei, in particular, will be able to get greater access to the U.S. market.

The letter, which was addressed to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, asked the commission to explain potential risks posed by the deployment of the companies' equipment by U.S. carriers. The lawmakers said Huawei and ZTE are in active discussions with Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), and that their links to the Chinese government and military would pose a threat to national security if there was "manipulation of switches, routers or software embedded in American telecommunications network so that communications can be disrupted, intercepted, tampered with or purposely misrouted." 

Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) signed the letter. The letter is the second such request lawmakers have made to the Obama administration in the last two months.

An FCC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Huawei, which has always denied any ties to the Chinese government, declined to comment on the new letter. At the time of the first letter in August, Huawei spokeswoman Jannie Nguyen told FierceWireless that Huawei "strictly complies with all the laws, regulations and related trade compliance regulations established by the U.N. and all the countries where we operate including the U.S."

Huawei is working with Cox Communications on the company's 3G CDMA network, and is a supplier for Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) mobile WiMAX network. In September, Huawei unveiled a three-pronged security plan designed to alleviate concerns from operators. 

As for ZTE, the company railed against the new letter. The letter "unfairly characterizes ZTE," Bruce Reisenauer, president of ZTE Solutions in the U.S., told Bloomberg. "The unsubstantiated allegations made in the letter are disappointedly anti-competitive, protectionist and somewhat xenophobic."

Reisenauer also said ZTE has no connection to the Chinese military.

ZTE also is active in the U.S. market, and has sold handsets through carriers including Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ).

For more:
- see the letter
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article

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