Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held a markup where it unanimously passed two pieces of legislation aimed at improving U.S. fifth-generation wireless network (5G) security measures out of committee: the Secure 5G and Beyond Act (S. 893) and the United States 5G Leadership Act (S. 1625).  These bills—passed as Congress, the Administration, and the private sector are engaged in a public debate over how to best secure U.S. wireless networks and other technologies from foreign adversaries—are among the first pieces of legislation on 5G and national security to emerge from committee since the deployment of 5G began this year.

The advancement of these bills reflects the growing concern in Congress that the U.S. government must prioritize 5G security.  During the last Congress, the House and Senate both passed resolutions emphasizing the critical need for continued U.S. leadership in the development of next-generation wireless technology and in the establishment of global 5G standards.  This Congress, members continue to focus heavily on 5G leadership and national security: at least twenty bills introduced this year explicitly aim to bolster U.S. leadership in 5G or protect 5G networks and infrastructure from foreign influence.

The two bills passed at last week’s markup are part of this trend.  The Secure 5G and Beyond Act, first introduced in March 2019 by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Mark Warner (D-VA), requires the Administration to develop a detailed domestic security strategy to ensure the safety of 5G wireless systems and infrastructure and to develop a broader strategy for U.S. R&D leadership in 5G.  The bill also calls for further research and development in critical technologies and workforce development that will lead to secure, effective, and reliable deployment of 5G and other next generation wireless systems.  The bill was ordered out of committee as amended, including an amendment from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) calling for the security strategy to include an assessment of the global competitiveness and vulnerabilities of U.S. 5G and future-generation manufacturers and suppliers and a substitute bill from Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) that added to the list of required strategy elements mandatory private sector and international engagement on 5G standards-setting bodies.  A companion House bill, H.R. 2881, was introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) in May, but has not received a hearing.

The Committee also unanimously reported the United States 5G Leadership Act.  First introduced by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Warner, Ed Markey (D-MA), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), this legislation would prohibit any federal funds from being used to “purchase communications equipment or services” from Huawei, ZTE, or other entities deemed by the national security agencies or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to pose a potential national security risk.  The bill would require the FCC to complete its ongoing rulemaking—first launched in 2017—to make exemptions from the funding ban.  The bill would also create a Supply Chain Security Trust Fund grant program to help U.S. communications providers replace equipment supplied by covered companies.

In addition to these two bills, the Senate has also called attention to the issue of 5G development and security during hearings in the 116th Congress.  In February 2019, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on “Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States.”  At that hearing, witnesses testified to the importance of innovating not just in regards to the transformational effects of 5G deployments in new fields like connected cars and virtual reality, but also in regards to the equipment that makes such deployments possible: secure networks and mobile device chipsets.  In April 2019, the Senate Commerce Committee also held a hearing on the topic of “Strengthening the Cybersecurity of the Internet of Things,” during which senators and industry representatives agreed that 5G network security would be crucial to the maintenance of IoT device security.

In May 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “5G: National Security Concerns, Intellectual Property Issues, and the Impact on Competition and Innovation.”  At that hearing, senators and witnesses raised concerns about supply chain security vulnerabilities of using foreign 5G equipment to build out national networks.  Other hearings, bills, and resolutions have discussed the importance of 5G innovation to maintaining secure defense systems and developing new sectors of the American economy.  For example, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced a resolution deeming it a “national priority for the U.S. to lead the world in the development and deployment” of 5G technology and strongly urging federal agencies to work with the FCC to advance the goal of U.S. 5G leadership, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-8) introduced a bill that would require the Director of National Intelligence to submit a report on the national security threat posed by 5G technology and the effect of possible efforts to mitigate the threat.

As the year continues, we expect to see sustained attention paid to 5G innovation, and will continue to monitor executive and legislative action, including hearings, future bills, and movement on existing bills, in this space.