Several years ago, the family-owned Pine Telephone Company brought expanded cell phone and internet service to its rural community in Oklahoma via a “secret weapon.” The more cost-effective option for purchasing wireless equipment and software is from the now-banned entity known as Huawei, reported The Washington Post.
Pine General Manager Jerry Whisenhunt spent $32 million to upgrade its network with Huawei equipment.
New businesses were launched, and tourism spiked, which gave a boost to the local economy. Now, the U.S. government is calling Huawei a threat to national security (see here).
In May, President Trump signed an executive order prohibiting U.S. companies from purchasing telecom equipment from high-risk entities subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, a move widely seen as targeting Huawei, per The Washington Post. Additionally, the FCC is proposing to block U.S. telecom companies from receiving federal subsidies if they buy foreign equipment that poses a security threat.
These new rules create challenges for Pine and other rural carriers who rely on subsidies to stay afloat. The restrictions also prevent Pine from purchasing replacement parts from Huawei or accepting software upgrades, which will make current equipment obsolete.
Whisenhunt trusts the government’s view regarding the Chinese manufacturer but knows the repercussions are bad for business. “If they say it, I’ve got to believe it. But if I rip this out, all these people here are not going to have internet,” he said.
Now, Pine and other small companies are calling for federal funding to help replace equipment. “If not, rural America takes a hit,” Whisenhunt said, adding that it would take Pine years and tens of millions of dollars to strip its Huawei equipment off more than 140 cell towers.
October 14, 2019