The Rural Wireless Association says it was “stunned” by the FCC’s decision last week to designate Huawei and ZTE as national security threats and immediately bar the use of Universal Service Fund (USF) support to purchase, maintain, or otherwise support the companies’ equipment and technology in rural carriers’ networks.
As a result, rural carriers who have deployed Huawei or ZTE equipment or services in their networks will now lack the ability to support their critical networks that are serving hundreds of thousands of rural residents and those traveling through rural America, according to RWA. “Given the difficulty in demonstrating where specifically their USF support is being used in their networks, this puts rural carriers in a precarious situation,” notes RWA in a statement. That’s because the change is happening at the same time rural carriers are striving to “offer extended payment terms for their customers…adjust to the fallout of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and continue to keep rural Americans connected to broadband and telephone services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
RWA asked the FCC for the chance to apply for waivers of the prohibition and asked the Commission to give them sufficient time to submit such waivers before pulling away their USF support. The Competitive Carriers Association has been involved in the issue as well but did not have a statement on the Commission’s action.
Of the decision to officially designate Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “Both companies have close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus, and are broadly subject to Chinese law obligating them to cooperate with the country’s intelligence services.” He explained the agency also took into account the findings and actions of Congress, the executive branch, the intelligence community, America’s allies, and communications service providers in other countries.
In November 2019, the Commission unanimously adopted a ban on the use of USF money to companies deemed to be national security threats. The Commission proposed Huawei and ZTE be covered by the rule.
FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks called on Congress to fund a program to help small carriers find untrusted equipment in their networks and fund replacements. “Congress recognized in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act that many carriers will need support to transition away from untrustworthy equipment, but it still has not appropriated funding for replacements. I look forward to working with Congress and my colleagues to ensure there are sufficient funds to get the job done.”
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