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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary’s statement on telecoms

14/07/20

Oliver Dowden’s statement on telecoms to the House of Commons on 14 July 2020.

Digital connectivity is an increasingly vital part of our lives.

This period of global crisis has brought home the profound importance of a reliable connection.

4G technology has enabled rapid internet connection over mobile phones. Alongside superfast broadband to the home, it has allowed people to do everything from Zoom calls to downloading movies.

But the government needs to look to the future. That means developing world-class, next generation digital technology through 5G for mobile and gigabit-capable full fibre.

It is only by doing this that we will remain at the forefront of the technology revolution.

In order to realise the full benefits of those technologies, though, we have to have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which they are built.

Keeping the country secure is the primary duty of a government to its people. This consideration precedes all others.

There is of course no such thing as a perfectly secure network. But the responsibility of the government is to ensure that it is as secure as it can possibly be.

That is why we conducted the Telecoms Supply Chain Review to look at the long-term security of our 5G and full fibre networks.

It set out plans to implement one of the toughest regimes in the world for telecoms security.

One which would shift from a model where the telecoms industry merely follows guidance, to a model where standards would be enforced by legislation.

One that would require all operators to raise security standards and combat a range of threats, whether from cyber criminals, or state sponsored attacks.

And one which gave the government the necessary powers to keep our approach up to date as this technology develops.

A critical aspect of this was how we addressed high risk vendors – defined as those which pose greater security and resilience risks to the UK’s networks.

In January, we set out to this House our conclusions on how we would define and restrict high risk vendors, keeping them outside the network’s core and away from critical infrastructure and sites.

We have been clear-eyed from the start that the Chinese-owned vendors Huawei and ZTE were deemed to be high risk.

And we made clear that the National Cyber Security Centre would review and update its advice as necessary.

Since January the situation has changed.

On the 15th of May the US Department of Commerce announced that new sanctions had been imposed against Huawei through changes to the foreign direct product rules. This was a significant, material change – and one that we have to take into consideration.

These sanctions are not the first attempt by the US to restrict Huawei’s ability to supply equipment to 5G networks.

They are, however, the first to have potentially severe impacts on Huawei’s ability to supply new equipment in the UK.

The new US measures restrict Huawei’s ability to produce important products using US technology or software.

The National Cyber Security Centre has reviewed the consequences of the US’s actions.

The NCSC has now reported to ministers that they have significantly changed their security assessment of Huawei’s presence in the UK 5G network.

Given the uncertainty this creates around Huawei’s supply chain, the UK can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment affected by the change in the US foreign direct product rules.

To manage this risk, they have now issued new advice on the use of Huawei in UK telecoms networks.

This morning, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the National Security Council. Attendees at that meeting took full account of the National Cyber Security Centre’s advice, together with the implications for UK industry and wider geostrategic considerations.

The government agrees with the National Cyber Security Centre’s advice: the best way to secure our networks is for operators to stop using new affected Huawei equipment to build the UK’s future 5G networks.

So to be clear, from the end of this year, telecoms operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei. And once the Telecoms Security Bill is passed it will be illegal for them to do so.

But we also recognise the range of concerns voiced in this House regarding Huawei’s role in our 5G network.

I have listened carefully to those concerns and I do agree that we need clarity on our position and to take decisive action.

Mr Speaker, we have previously set out our plans to safely manage the presence of high risk vendors in our 5G network. And of course our ambition was that no one should need to use a high risk vendor for 5G at all.

But I know that Honourable Members have sought a commitment from the government to remove Huawei equipment from our 5G network altogether.

This is why we have concluded that it is necessary and prudent to commit to a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G network by 2027.

Let me be clear. This requirement will be set out in law by the Telecoms Security Bill. By the time of the next election, we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks.

We have not taken this decision lightly. And I must be frank that this decision will have consequences for every constituency in the country.

This will delay our 5G rollout. Our decisions in January had already set back that rollout by a year and cost up to a billion pounds.

Today’s decision to ban the procurement of new Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year will delay rollout by a further year and will add up to half a billion to the costs. Requiring operators, in addition, to remove Huawei equipment from their 5G networks by 2027 will add hundreds of millions to the cost and further delay roll out. This means a cumulative delay to 5G rollout of two to three years and costs of up to two billion pounds.

This will have real consequences for the connections on which all of our constituents rely.

To go further and faster beyond a 2027 target would add considerable – and unnecessary – further costs and delays. And the shorter we make the timetable for removal, the greater the risk of actual disruption to mobile telecoms networks.

The world-leading expertise of the NCSC and GCHQ has enabled us to publish one of the most detailed analyses of the risks to 5G networks. The UK is now acting quickly, decisively and ahead of our international partners.

Our approach reflects the UK’s specific national circumstances and how the risks from these sanctions are manifested here in the UK.

It has not been an easy decision but it is the right one: for the UK’s telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy – both now and in the long term.

We also need to look at other networks – although fundamentally different to 5G, as many members of this House have pointed out in the past – they need to be as secure and resilient as our new mobile technology.

So, reflecting the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre, we will need to take a different approach to full fibre and older networks – one that recognises that they are different to 5G in terms of their technology, their security, and the vendors supporting them.

Given there is only one other appropriate scale vendor for full fibre equipment, we are embarking on a short technical consultation with operators to understand their supply chain alternatives, so that we can avoid unnecessary delays to our gigabit ambitions and prevent significant resilience risks.

The technical consultation will determine the nature of our rigorous approach to Huawei outside our 5G networks.

This all has implications for the Telecoms Security Bill.

I am fully aware that I made a commitment to this House in March to introduce it before the summer recess.

I am sure Honourable Members will appreciate that today’s decision, however, will substantially change what is in the Bill.

We will introduce the Bill to the House in the Autumn. Of course, it is in all our interests for the legislation to be introduced and passed as soon as possible so that we can put our telecoms security advice on a secure statutory footing.

As this House knows, one of the reasons we are in this situation is because of global market failure. Put simply, countries around the world, not just in the United Kingdom, have become dangerously reliant on too few vendors.

We have already set out a clear and ambitious diversification strategy. That strategy will include wide-ranging action in the short, medium and long-term with the aim of driving competition and innovation to grow the market and deliver greater resilience across our networks.

The strategy will focus on three core elements:

First – securing the supply chains of our incumbent, non high risk suppliers by putting in place measures and mitigations that will protect supply chains and ensure there is no disruption to our networks.

Second – bringing new scale vendors into the UK market by removing barriers to entry, providing commercial incentives and creating large scale opportunities for new vendors to enter the UK market.

And third – addressing the existing structure of the supply market by investing in research and development and building partnerships between operators and vendors that will mean operators using multiple vendors in a single network will become the standard across the industry.

Success will require a shared commitment – between government and industry – to take the necessary steps to address this issue.

We are already engaging extensively with operators, vendors and governments around the world about supporting and accelerating the process of diversification.

And we recognise this is a global issue and requires international collaboration to deliver a lasting solution.

So we are working with our Five Eyes partners and our friends around the world to bring together a coalition to deliver our shared goals.

I know in addition many Members of this House have considered the government’s policy on high risk vendors in the context of the UK’s wider relationship with China.

Let me assure Members that this Government is clear-eyed about China. We have been robust in our response to the imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong, including through our generous offer to British National (Overseas) passport holders.

What we want is a modern and mature relationship with China, based on mutual respect – where we are able to speak frankly when we disagree, but also to work side by side with China on the issues where our interests converge.

Today’s decision, however, is about ensuring the long-term security of our telecoms network, specifically in the light of the new US sanctions.

The security and resilience of our telecoms networks is of paramount importance.

We have never, and will never, compromise that security in our pursuit of economic prosperity.

It is a fact that the US has introduced additional sanctions on Huawei. And as the facts have changed so has our approach.

That is why we have taken the decision that there can be no new Huawei equipment from the end of this year, and set out a clear timetable to exclude Huawei completely by 2027, with an irreversible path implemented by the time of the next election.

Telecoms providers will be legally required to implement this by the Telecoms Security Bill, which I will bring before this House shortly.

Mr Speaker, this important decision secures our networks now, and lays the foundations for a world-class telecoms security framework in the future.

I commend this statement to the House.

This statement was originally published on gov.uk.

Written by DTG Team
 

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