Commerce Chief Nominee Scrutinizes China, 5G and Internet

Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo, President Biden’s nominee to head the Commerce Department, described some of her positions during a Senate confirmation hearing. She revealed that she will take a “very aggressive” stance against China’s “unfair” trade practices stressing the need to develop a “whole-of-government response” in concert with U.S. allies. Raimondo also called for a national 5G spectrum policy and stated she will pursue changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The Washington Post reports that Raimondo said that the “whole-of-government response” would combat “China’s theft of intellectual property, its hefty state subsidies for industry and its efforts to block Western access to the Chinese market” as part of that country’s unfair trade practices.

The Trump administration punished China with the Entity List, designating 300 Chinese entities as national security threats. Raimondo wouldn’t state whether Huawei or other companies would remain on the list but said she would “review the policy, consult with you, consult with industry, consult with our allies and make an assessment about what’s best for American national security and economic security.”

The U.S. semiconductor industry has urged easing of the prohibitions; Huawei was “once a major customer.”

Raimondo added that the Commerce Department needs to “play offense” by promoting U.S. technology, not simply “play defense.” “One area Commerce has missed is playing a role in standards-setting,” she said. “I believe America has to lead in standards-setting, particularly in new technology.”

Bloomberg reports that Raimondo also expressed the need for a “national spectrum strategy,” that would allow America “to win and lead” the race to 5G. It notes that, during the Trump administration, FCC chair Ajit Pai “was in disagreement on airwaves policy with the Pentagon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the departments of Transportation and Energy.”

At the time, the FCC’s Jessica Rosenworcel, now acting FCC chair, said, “we are heading into our wireless future with something less than a fully coordinated effort.” Raimondo stressed that, “it’s important to have a strong National Telecommunications and Information Administration” (NTIA).

The Verge notes Raimondo said that, if confirmed, she will “pursue changes to Section 230 … [via] the tools available through the Commerce Department’s [NTIA] to convene stakeholders, industry leaders, lawmakers and others to identify the means of reform to the pivotal Internet law.” Although the Electronic Frontier Foundation dubs it “the most important law protecting Internet speech … critics argue that its broad protections let powerful companies ignore real harm to users.”

Raimondo said that, although misinformation does hurt people, “reform would have to be balanced against the fact that these businesses rely upon user-generated content for their innovation, and they’ve created many thousands of jobs.” She has also stated that regarding tech industry monopoly power, “she would leave those decisions up to Congress and the Federal Trade Commission.”