VTel Case Raises International Cybersecurity Concerns

Jan 28, 2019

Concerns that Chinese technology may threaten U.S. cybersecurity have surfaced in Vermont.

Vermont Telephone Company, based in Springfield, says it does not want to fully link its network to an out-of-state telecom company because that firm uses equipment made by a leading Chinese manufacturer.

The Trump Administration has targeted the Chinese-owned conglomerate Huawei because of fears its technology could undermine the security of phone and computer networks.

The Vermont dispute surfaced in a hearing Monday at the state Public Utility Commission.

FirstLight, based in Albany, N.Y., wants a full interconnection agreement between its network and one operated by the Vermont Telephone Company, or VTel. The agreements are pretty standard, and would allow customers to keep their phone number if they go to the other company.

But VTel raises an issue that’s a top priority in the White House and in capitals around the world - the spread of Chinese-made technology in global telecom infrastructure.

“What we’re concerned about here is an unprecedented cybersecurity challenge,” said VTel lawyer Anthony Iarrapino. “And I think you see how grave those are based on the precautions of our own government.”

Iarrapino argued VTel and its customers are at risk if the network is connected to a company using equipment made by Huawei, a leading manufacturer of routers, switches and other telecom technology. He said VTel could also be hurt financially because the federal government won’t do business with companies that use Huawei.

“So this is not really a typical interconnection dispute,” he said.

FirstLight did not address national security issues at Monday’s hearing at the Public Utility Commission. Company lawyer Gregory Kendall challenged VTel’s claims that it uses Huawei equipment.

VTel wants FirstLight to sign an agreement promising it does not use Huawei equipment. FirstLight, which is owned by a French multinational, so far has balked at making that promise.

The Vermont case was continued, and the two sides promised to work on a schedule for more hearings.