So a few months back, a group mysteriously calling itself "Protect Amerca's Wireless" popped up on the internet and began attacking the Sprint, T-Mobile merger. The campaign, which has all the usual signs of astroturf, takes particular aim at both companies' use of Huawei network hardware -- gear that the organization insists "could give countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, and Japan direct access to our networks through the use of foreign-made networking equipment and billions of foreign money."
In short, the mystery group is piggybacking on the recent hysteria surrounding Huawei to try and scuttle the merger, which is certainly a problematic merger, but largely for employment and competition reasons.
Like most policy and political influence efforts, the campaign doesn't list its funders on its website, simply insisting it's an organic coalition of a few think tanks and some "foreign policy and national security professionals." I reached out to the group for more details on its financing, and was told (falsely) that the group couldn't tell me who finances it because as a 501(c)(3) it's prohibited by law from doing so.
The evidence is clear: @sprint and @TMobile have a long history with Chinese telecom companies accused of SPYING on foreign networks. Upgrading to 5G shouldn't cost us our privacy and national security. This merger can't happen with foreign technology: https://t.co/qfxitMpPL7
— Protect America's Wireless (@SafeWireless) December 13, 2018
So we've noted for a while that while some of the criticism of Huawei has been justified, much of it has been manufactured by Huawei competitors like Cisco.
And while recent allegations that Huawei may have tap-danced around Iranian sanctions may or may not be true, the claims that the company routinely spies on Americans for the Chinese government has never been publicly proven. In fact, an 18 month study by the White House in 2012 (the last time this hysteria crested) found no evidence supporting such allegations. Germany just this week stated it wouldn't join the Huawei vilification party until somebody provides, you know, actual evidence.
US press coverage of the Huawei story usually fails to mention any of this. Nor is it mentioned that the United States has routinely been busted doing far worse. The Snowden docs, for example, showed how the NSA broke into Huawei, stole source code, and implanted backdoors, something that seems kind of important in conversational context. It's a solid example of how the US tech press isn't particularly keyed into its own nationalistic myopia. It also exemplifies the States' bad habit (both by government and the press) of pushing the idea that dubious and unethical behavior is only okay when we do it.
I'm still digging into who runs Protect America's Wireless (it's worth at least noting that former Rep. Mike Rogers, now an AT&T consultant, was at the outfit's launch). In the interim, it looks like both Sprint and T-Mobile believe are being told by the government that they'll likely have their competition-eroding merger approved if their owners (Deutsche Telekom and Softbank) are willing to remove all Huawei gear from their network and stop using the supplier moving forward:
"T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp believe their foreign owners’ offer to stop using Huawei Technologies equipment will help with the United States clearing their $26 billion merger deal, sources said, underscoring the lengths to which Washington has gone to shut out the Chinese company."
Having watched the Trump FCC's other efforts to help blacklist Huawei, I'd be willing to bet that one of their only meaningful conditions affixed to their gushing approval of the deal will be promises by T-Mobile and Sprint that they won't use Huawei gear (omitted: the fact that neither currently does). This will help the FCC pretend that it hasn't abdicated its role as watchdog, with national security chatter obfuscating many of the terrible aspects of the deal (like the 30,000 potential job losses or the dramatic reduction in overall competition).
The duo get their unpopular merger, Cisco gets more business thanks to facts-optional protectionism, and consumers get bupkis. See how this game works?
Given all of the legitimately dubious things China routinely does, defending Huawei isn't exactly a hill I'm excited to die on. Still, I've been absolutely fascinated by the selective reasoning and hypocrisy as Huawei is increasingly blacklisted. It's particularly odd since the lax security in the internet of things and consumer network hardware space -- arguably just as big of a threat to national security -- receives only a tiny fraction of the same breathless attention by many of these same folks.
Huawei gets oddly singled out as some kind of unique bogeyman. In reality most major telecom operators, including US operators like AT&T, are every bit as sketchy as the allegations levied at Huawei. Dubious lobbying efforts? Check. Illegal and unethical efforts to screw consumers? Check. Massive corruption scandals? Check. Massive, legally-dubious wholesale domestic spying operations? You betcha. Most major telecom operators are government-pampered natural monopolies that don't have to play by the rules and more often than not win the most lucrative government contracts, thanks to their cozy relationship with intelligence.
Huawei may or may not have actually been involved in spying. Maybe someday somebody will actually provide public evidence proving they do. In the interim, it's pretty clear a sizable chunk of the current Huawei hysteria is being generated by the same companies that don't want to compete with Huawei, a layer of protectionism the press should at least mention in passing during the next round of pearl clutching.