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    May 23, 2024

    Revamping Telecom Testing: FCC’s Push for Transparency and Security

    Should we trust the accredited labs to follow US law and protect sensitive data?fcc seal

    A fresh Notification of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is setting its sights on the ownership conflicts within wireless device testing labs and Telecommunications Certification Bodies (TCBs). Explained by the FCC as a national security concern, the rules propose transparency of ownership of approved entities the US government trusts with very sensitive data about new electronic devices coming to market. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for policing the marketplace and suspending bad actors. Still, we have long sensed that the agency is woefully underfunded to monitor such an enormous number of imports. Due to the sheer volume of applications and the need to alleviate industry burdens, the FCC had to delegate approval responsibilities to private parties, appointing TCBs and establishing test labs in multiple countries over twenty years ago. This new initiative aims to bring much-needed transparency to a crucial program that serves as the gateway for all legal wireless devices entering the U.S. marketplace.

    The explosion of wireless technology has put the FCC in the spotlight. Over the past 20 years, technological advancements have exponentially increased the demand for wireless communication, encompassing everything from smartphones to smart home systems. The FCC's role has expanded significantly, now grappling with challenges such as spectrum allocation, interference mitigation, and international coordination. This rapid pace of technological evolution often outstrips existing regulatory frameworks, placing immense pressure on the FCC to adapt swiftly while fostering innovation and ensuring national security. As if that was not enough, the FCC must also navigate the turbulent waters of U.S. politics, which inevitably impact decision-making and resource allocation.

    fcc_tcb_ranking_chartWith over six hundred qualified testing labs worldwide and almost forty TCBs, the FCC’s latest NPRM in ET Docket No. 24-136 focuses on bolstering the integrity and security of TCBs and Measurement Facilities (test labs). These entities are pivotal to the FCC's equipment authorization program, which ensures that telecommunications equipment meets stringent regulatory standards. The NPRM seeks to enhance oversight and security, aligning with the Commission’s comprehensive strategy to create a more secure and resilient communications supply chain.

    The NPRM proposes prohibiting any TCB or test lab from participating in the equipment authorization program if an entity on the FCC’s Covered List has direct or indirect ownership or control of 10% or more. The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology would be tasked with suspending recognition of any TCB or test lab under such ownership or control. This move is designed to prevent entities posing national security risks from influencing the equipment authorization process.

    FCC_website_May_2024Additionally, the NPRM invites comments on whether the FCC should impose eligibility restrictions for TCBs, and test labs based on lists developed by Executive Branch agencies identifying entities that pose national security risks. This alignment aims to synchronize the FCC’s regulations with broader governmental efforts to secure the telecommunications supply chain.

    The NPRM also proposes new data collection requirements to enhance oversight of the equipment authorization program. TCBs and test labs would need to report any entity holding a 5% or greater direct or indirect equity and/or voting interest in them. The FCC is also seeking feedback on other potential revisions to further bolster the integrity of TCBs and test labs, ensuring these entities operate with high standards of security and reliability.

    This NPRM represents a significant step toward fortifying the foundations of the FCC’s equipment authorization program, aiming for a transparent, secure, and reliable process that keeps pace with the rapidly evolving technological landscape.


    Related sites and documents: Original Docket, FCC News Release, FCC dot Gov


    Andrew Robbins

    Andrew is a seasoned leader in the Testing, Inspection, Certification, and Compliance (TICC) sector, with over 30 years of experience crafting global sales and marketing strategies that drive business growth and customer satisfaction. As Director of Global Marketing, he boosts efficiency and fosters innovation with a...

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