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Eye on China: Centre to vet telecom equipment vendors, create blacklist

BusinessToday.In     December 16, 2020

Central government will cherry-pick telecom equipment providers and will even blacklist certain sources, under a new security directive for the telecom sector. The directive will come into effect six months from today, announced Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The Cabinet Committee on Security has formed a National Security Directive on telecommunication sector, announced Prasad, adding that it is a crucial step regarding national security. The move to vet telecom equipment suppliers comes on the same day that the Cabinet allowed spectrum auction in multiple. The decision assumes even more importance considering that India is planning to go the 5G way soon.

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"Considering the need to ensure India's national security, the Cabinet has accorded approval for the National Security Directive on Telecommunication Sector. Under the provisions of this directive, in order to maintain the integrity of the supply chain security, government will declare a list of trusted sources, trusted products for the benefit of telecom services," Prasad informed.

"To be covered under this directive and methodology to designate trusted products to be devised by the designated authority who is the National Cyber Security Coordinator. Telecom service providers are required to connect new devices which are designated, trusted products. The designated authority will make its determination based on approval of a committee headed by the Deputy NSA," he further added.

The committee, which will be called National Security Committee on Telecom, will consist of members from relevant departments, ministries and will also have two members from the industry and an independent expert.

"A list of designated sources from whom no procurement can be done may also be created," the Union IT Minister noted.

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He, however, clarified that the directive for telecom sector does not envisage mandatory replacement of the existing equipment already being used by the telecom service providers (TSPs). It will also not apply to ongoing annual maintenance contracts or updates to existing equipments already inducted in networks by the date of the implementation of the directive.

From among the sources declared as trusted source by the designated authority, those which meet the criteria of Department of Telecom's preferential market access scheme will be certified as 'India Trusted Sources'. The National Security Committee on Telecom will promote usage of equipment from these sources, Prasad said.

Although, it was not mentioned in the Cabinet briefing, Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers are expected to be at a disadvantage due to this new directive. They already are facing similar troubles around the world due to security concerns.

India has banned several Chinese apps over the course of this year, citing threat to national security, sovereignty and integrity as reasons. This action came on the back of military tensions between the two nations along international borders in Ladakh.

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