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FCC Meddling Threatens the Economy and National Security


By Major General Bob Dees, U.S. Army, Retired

The threat from state-sponsored actors of foreign adversaries has never been higher. Earlier this month, the Pentagon warned that Chinese-made cranes at American ports could be spying tools hiding in plain sight. Beyond that, the People’s Republic of China has deployed cyber actors to position themselves on our nation’s communications infrastructure. The list goes on. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is leaning into this ever-present threat to justify significant regulation on internet service providers. The agency’s stated goal with this move is to increase our government’s response to hostile foreign actors. Ironically, this would ultimately harm, not protect, our nation’s ability to defend itself.

For decades, U.S. policymakers have identified and responded to cybersecurity threats with a whole of government approach that utilizes public-private partnerships. In 1984, under President Reagan, the U.S. government established the Communications Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Comm-ISAC), which serves as an information exchange between government and industry participants. Working together, this crucial partnership identifies cyber-attacks, as well as any “vulnerabilities, threats, intrusions, and anomalies” that could impact telecommunications infrastructure.

Subsequent administrations have built on this collaboration with the assistance of Congress. More recently, President Trump released the National Cyber Strategy in 2018 which improved the cybersecurity of federal systems and addressed the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. President Biden followed up with his administration’s own National Cybersecurity Strategy and Implementation Plan last year.

Over the span of forty years, in this web of interconnected government agency collaboration with private sector actors, the FCC has never been listed as a primary agency lead on national security. The deep bench of expertise at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, the ISAC mentioned above, and a myriad of other highly qualified professionals who work at the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce are well postured to respond to the growing threat of foreign actors in America’s communications networks.

Yet the FCC claims it needs to expand its authority. In a rulemaking that was introduced in September 2023, the FCC has proposed classifying broadband services as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. A major result of this rule would make broadband providers subject to Section 214, which requires providers to obtain the FCC’s approval before building new networks, offering new services, discontinuing offerings, or transferring licenses. This imposition of a new regulatory regime would do very little to protect national security. Even worse, it would hamper the federal government’s $65 billion investment in delivering internet access for all. 

The FCC claims that this new authority is needed to bolster public safety and enhance network resiliency. According to the proposed rule, the FCC is limited in the “regulatory and operational actions that the Commission can take to address cyber incidents impacting the communications sector, as well as other critical infrastructure sectors.” It is clear to anyone who is familiar with our nation’s network security that FCC has never been given this authority because their involvement is unneeded and would be counterproductive.

In fact, the FCC is not mentioned once in the National Cybersecurity Strategy as an agency responsible for implementation. This is by design – as Andrew Grotto, who served as Senior Director for Cybersecurity Policy for Presidents Obama and Trump, put it; the large network of government agencies tasked with carrying out the President’s cybersecurity agenda will have a “harder time coordinating the work of independent agencies, such as the FCC.”

I applaud the FCC for recognizing the national security problem in front of us, but the solution is not expanding FCC authority. Rather, the agency should focus on allocating more licensed spectrum for 5G use. As I’ve written previously, allowing China to lead the US on 5G and its associated infrastructure leaves our nation vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks to the electric grid, communications and transportation networks, and other essential public services. As the agency charged with allocating spectrum for commercial use, the FCC should be doing more to shore up our licensed spectrum deficit; not pursuing an overreach of control that will ultimately slow down broadband deployment. 


Major General Bob Dees, U.S. Army, Retired, has a breadth of national security expertise, including development of high technology weapons and communications systems. He also served as a consultant to the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection.