Last week US Senators John Hickenlooper and Deb Fischer, members of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced the ‘Defend Our Networks Act’, which seeks to address the funding shortfall for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-backed ‘rip-and-replace programme’ and bankroll the removal of Chinese-built telecoms equipment from the networks of regional mobile and fixed broadband operators. The act seeks to reallocate roughly 3% of unobligated emergency COVID-relief funds to the ‘Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program’. Senator Hickenlooper commented: ‘We can’t let the Chinese government be embedded in our critical telecommunications networks. We’ve banned their equipment. Now we need to replace what’s already there. Our Defend Our Networks Act will protect our rural wireless networks by ripping out risky equipment.’
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, the FCC faces a USD3 billion shortfall as it seeks to reimburse small-scale US operators who need to remove Huawei/ZTE equipment from their networks on national security grounds. The FCC is taking steps to reimburse communications providers with ten million or fewer subscriptions to remove, replace and dispose of Chinese-built equipment. The reimbursement programme is being funded by a USD1.9 billion congressional appropriation, but ‘Priority 1 applicants’ (operators serving fewer than two million subscriptions) have submitted approximately USD4.640 billion in cost estimates that are reasonable and supported.
In January this year an FCC report confirmed that only 2% of recipients had completed the permanent removal, replacement, and disposal of the Chinese equipment in their networks. 83% of respondents had made some progress, but not completed the work, while the other 15% had not yet begun the work.