US lawmakers are expected to include USD1.9 billion funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FFC’s) ‘rip and replace’ scheme as part of USD900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, Reuters reports, citing two sources briefed on the matter. The scheme, approved by the FCC earlier this month, requires operators to remove from their networks equipment that the US government considers a national security risk. The FCC’s order featured a reimbursement programme to support the replacement of relevant equipment by smaller providers, and was initially expected to cost ‘at least USD1.6 billion’. The new bill reportedly expands the eligibility for financing to providers with ten million or fewer subscribers, although operators with two million or fewer subscribers are to be prioritised. In June this year, a separate order formally identified Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE as security threats, barring operators from using money from the USD8.3 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to purchase equipment from the firms.
Meanwhile, the relief bill also includes funding of USD3.2 billion for an emergency broadband benefit for low-income Americans, and USD7 billion to increase access to broadband. Reuters quotes a fact sheet on the legislation as specifying that the bill ‘establishes a temporary, emergency broadband benefit program at the FCC to help low-income Americans, including those economically challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, get connected or remain connected to broadband.’ Other initiatives supported by the bill include the expansion of broadband infrastructure to underserved Americans in rural areas and to minority communities, and the development of more accurate broadband availability maps to allow the FCC to better allocate government funding for broadband development.