US lawmakers are set to approve $1.9 billion aimed to fund a program to remove telecom network equipment manufactured in China, which the U.S. government says poses national security risks. The fund is expected to be drawn from the $900 billion COVID-19 relief aid.
The development comes amid years of rumor that Huawei Technologies equipment and ZTE Corp devices feature a backdoor that gathers information and transmit them to China.
Back in June, the Federal Communications Commission formally declared China’s Huawei Technologies Co and ZTE Corp as threats, thereby prohibiting U.S companies from buying equipment from those Chinese telecom operators. The Carriers were required to “rip and replace” any Huawei equipment with them.
FCC Chairman Pai said on December 11; “…we adopted rules requiring certain carriers to remove from their networks equipment that poses a threat to our national security and the integrity of the country’s communications networks and implementing the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program that will help smaller service providers shoulder the cost of removing and replacing such equipment.”
There is no confirmed evidence yet of the existence of a backdoor on handsets or networking gear made by the two Chinese companies, according to reports.
Huawei said it was disappointed in the FCC’s decision “to force removal of our products from telecommunications networks. This overreach puts U.S. citizens at risk in the largely underserved rural areas – during a pandemic – when reliable communication is essential.”
Since the ban on the use of Chinese telecom equipment blocked the U.S carriers from tapping into the $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to buy networking gear from the Chinese companies, the carriers need fund to rip and replace the telecom equipment from China. The good news now is that the fund will be released soon, since the covid relief aid was approved yesterday.
The covid 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,” according to a fact sheet seen by Reuters.
The COVID Relief Broadband Package is $7 billion in total. The bill expands eligibility for the rip-and-replace reimbursement program to U.S Carriers with 10 million subscribers or less. Priority will be given to providers with 2 million subscribers or less, according to the report
Also included in the bill is $250 million for telehealth support from the FCC and $1 billion for a program that backs tribal broadband connectivity. The bill is part of a year-end spending package that includes $3.2 billion in emergency broadband benefits for low-income Americans.