April 7, 2023
Players from across the telecom spectrum continue to push Congress to dig up more money to pay for the removal of Huawei and ZTE equipment from US networks.
So far though, companies participating in the FCC's "rip and replace" program only stand to get about 40% of what they say they need to finish the job.
The latest: A top Democratic senator and one of the nation's two Democratic FCC officials jointly penned a call to action on the issue: "The national security threat posed by Huawei and ZTE equipment in America's networks is urgent," they wrote.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks also referenced the recent discovery of Chinese spy balloons over US airspace: "Let China's spy balloon incursion be the catalyst for us to eliminate the threat of Chinese government intelligence operations already imbedded in our telecommunications infrastructure once and for all," they wrote. "For the security of every American, Congress must act now to fully fund 'rip and replace.'"
A growing chorus
Peters and Starks aren't the only ones ringing the bell on the topic. "This is a bipartisan, national security issue that must be addressed immediately. Impacted carriers, their consumers, and the millions of Americans that roam on their networks must not be negatively impacted by insufficient funding. The time to act is now," wrote Tim Donovan, the new president of the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) in a recent statement. CCA is a trade association that represents many of the smaller telecom operators hoping to get money from the "rip and replace" program.
Figure 1: (Source: Inge Johnsson/Alamy Stock Photo)
Similarly, "RWA looks forward to swift FCC and Congressional action to fully fund the Reimbursement Program," the Rural Wireless Association wrote in its own recent statement. The RWA is another trade association that also represents many of the telecom operators in the program.
Separately, vendor Mavenir complained to the FCC that it is having difficulty navigating the paperwork involved in the program. "Mavenir noted that the Fund Administrator's sole reliance on email communications, in most situations, has played a significant role in the lack of understanding and communication that has hampered efforts to complete this process efficiently," the company wrote.
Mavenir also sought to highlight the importance of the issue by noting that its open RAN replacement network for Triangle Communications is "strategically located near Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of a few military bases that is in charge of intercontinental ballistic missiles."
Congress last year allocated about $1.9 billion for its Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, widely known in the telecom industry as the "rip and replace" program because participants are charged with ripping out Huawei and ZTE equipment and replacing it with "trusted" equipment from companies such as Ericsson, Nokia and Mavenir. However, dozens of mostly smaller US network operators participating in the effort believe that far more funding is needed – roughly $3.1 billion more – to finish the job.
To be clear, the "rip and replace" program is just one of many telecom issues under fierce debate in the nation's capital.
For example, the national security adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence recently asked, "Will Congress sell out America's national security?" At the core of that issue is how regulators might free up spectrum between 3.1GHz and 3.45GHz for 5G that's currently being used by the US military.
Separately, T-Mobile again raised concerns about its latest 2.5GHz spectrum purchases. The licenses are stuck in limbo because Congress hasn't renewed the FCC's auction authority. "The only thing separating nearly 50 million Americans from enhanced capacity, a huge speed boost, and world-class 5G is the FCC," wrote T-Mobile's outgoing networking chief Neville Ray in a recent blog post to the company's website. Ray argued the agency should release the licenses to T-Mobile through a Special Temporary Authority (STA).
Finally, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) renewed calls to have fixed wireless technology covered by government subsidy programs. "Using high-speed, reliable licensed fixed wireless broadband as a BEAD [Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment] deployment tool will expand the total connectivity package statewide," wrote WIA's Mike Saperstein and Rebecca Thompson, VP of government affairs at UScellular, in a post to the association's website.
The position comes as little surprise considering WIA primarily represents the nation's big cell tower owners, while UScellular has made no secret of its interest in getting government funding for fixed wireless.
It's not clear how such policy issues – from "rip and replace" funding to fixed wireless in BEAD funding – will shake out given the ongoing political turmoil between Democrats and Republicans.
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