911 services fall victim to FCC's Huawei 'rip and replace' program

As the FCC's "rip and replace" deliberations drag on, at least one small US wireless operator said the situation has affected its ability to provide critical 911 services in rural areas.

"3G services are being turned off due to inability to support the networks with [equipment] spares or with funding that is tied to a prohibition on universal service being used on Huawei or ZTE networks," wrote the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) in a recent filing to the FCC. "This has eliminated 911 services in some rural areas where an RWA member is the only service provider."

The RWA did not respond to a Light Reading request for additional information, including the identity of the provider.

Nonetheless, the situation yet again highlights the many difficulties surrounding the FCC's efforts to rip Huawei and ZTE equipment out of existing US networks and to replace it with equipment from a "trusted" supplier. The agency has already issued rules preventing providers that participate in its Universal Service Fund (USF) from spending money with the Chinese suppliers. The agency is also working to flesh out the details – including obtaining the money for the project from Congress – to officially embark on its "rip and replace" program.

In the meantime, though, providers are "stuck between a rock and a hard place," according to the RWA.

"RWA members mentioned that they cannot afford to wait for such assurances [including funding] as they are keen on providing the best service possible to their customers and are currently experiencing capacity restraints with the new school year and students' remote learning beginning," wrote the trade association, which represents many of the companies that have reported having equipment from Huawei and ZTE in their networks. "These networks' coverage footprints will continue to be unable to fill the coverage voids left by the withering 3G networks until carriers are provided sufficient funds to replace their unsecure equipment."

Huawei and ZTE have been deemed a threat to national security over fears their equipment can be used for Chinese espionage. The companies have denied those allegations.

The RWA's latest comments on the topic build on similar complaints voiced by other providers. For example, Rise Broadband recently said that ZTE "has largely abandoned support for existing equipment" in the US due to the FCC's recent actions, which has forced Rise to meet recent FCC mandates by paying to replace ZTE's equipment itself.

The FCC recently reported that it will cost a total of around $1.8 billion to remove and replace all Huawei and ZTE equipment in US networks. Verizon, CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, América Móvil and Windstream are among the companies that told the FCC they still have equipment from Huawei or ZTE in their networks.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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