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Americans value their privacy and rightfully so. It is one of those differentiators that our country is built on. In today’s digital world, threats to our personal information exist in every corner of our lives. What should truly give Americans pause, however, is the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Chinese equipment is unfortunately built into telecommunications networks across the country and poses a direct threat to our national security and to our citizens’ privacy. The recently introduced Defend Our Networks Act would give us the resources to fight back.
Lawmakers talk a big game when it comes to protecting Americans from the CCP’s malevolent plans for global influence but in many key areas, we are unfortunately falling behind. Technology from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE is spread across over 8,000 locations in America’s wireless network. In the case of Huawei, a 2021 Washington Post report revealed the role that this company plays in Chinese state surveillance. While this surveillance was of the Chinese people, it is not a stretch to believe that the CCP is keen use similar intelligence-gathering tactics on Americans and have been the conversation of controversy for more than a decade.
It is counterintuitive to believe that we would allow our own communications infrastructure to be compromised by these companies’ technology, yet that’s exactly what has happened. Laws that acknowledge the magnitude of this risk are already on the books. The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act was passed in 2020 and established the “Rip and Replace” program through the Federal Communications Commission. This program to help fund providers’ efforts to remove Chinese equipment from American cellular and broadband infrastructure, however, currently suffers from a severe lack of funding. In fact, the program was short over $3 billion in 2022 compared to the number of requests it received from providers.
The reality for many rural parts of the country is that without proper funding to implement this removal process, many providers would be forced to simply shut down insecure networks. This is a win-win for the CCP. The networks either stay in place with their equipment (allowing for potential disruptions and spying), or they go dark, leaving America with a weaker, less connected grid. Chinese officials would surely be pleased if Washington’s gridlock and partisan politics continue to block needed legislation from preventing this outcome.
Our nation’s competitive advantage springs from our people. We empower individuals with economic and personal freedoms that drive competition, innovation, and growth. If Americans lose basic tools to compete in today’s economy, like reliable internet access and communications capabilities, we won’t be positioned to outcompete China or many other countries, for that matter.
Beyond strategic competition with the CCP, shoring up our communications networks is vital for rural communities across Colorado and the nation. All Americans should have access to the tools needed for economic success, not just those living in big cities. This is why Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) was right to set a goal of 100% rural broadband coverage in Colorado when he was serving as Governor of our state. By introducing the Defend Our Networks Act in Congress, he is helping support this goal at a national level.
Let’s put our money where our mouth is and fully fund the removal of Chinese equipment from our communications networks. Bipartisan consensus is building around the threats posed by the CCP. Congress should take advantage of this rare area of agreement and show voters that they can produce results when it matters. Passing the Defend Our Networks Act would not only defend our networks, it would also defend our national interests and Coloradans’ interests.
Jansen Tidmore is the President and CEO of the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation (Jeffco EDC). The Jeffco EDC is the economic development for Jefferson County and its six cities, representing the attraction, expansion, and retention of primary employers. A 501c6 organization that believes the cornerstone to a healthy community is through access to quality jobs. Find out more at www.jeffcoedc.org