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Security

Verizon, CenturyLink, Windstream still using Huawei, ZTE equipment

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.

As part of its "rip and replace" program, the FCC has been collecting information from US telecom companies that have equipment from Chinese vendors Huawei or ZTE in their networks. Specifically, under its "2019 Supply Chain Order," the agency requested information from Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) about the topic; ETCs are companies deemed eligible to receive money from FCC programs like Lifeline, which subsidizes telecom services for low-income Americans. The FCC requested information about "the presence or use of Huawei or ZTE equipment and/or services in their networks, or in the networks of their affiliates or subsidiaries."

The FCC's goal is to determine how many US companies use equipment from Huawei or ZTE – the equipment has been deemed a threat to national security – and how much it might cost to replace that gear with equipment from "trusted" suppliers.

On Friday, the FCC published a list of companies that reported they have existing Huawei or ZTE equipment and services. The full list is at the end of this article. The list includes 51 companies ranging from tiny providers that have previously admitted to still using equipment from Huawei or ZTE – such as Rise Broadband, Viaero, Union Wireless, United TelCom, SI Wireless, Viaero and James Valley Telecommunications – as well as larger telecom companies including Verizon and CenturyLink.

Three of the nation's five biggest wireline phone providers (Verizon, CenturyLink and Windstream) have admitted to having equipment from Huawei or ZTE, according to Leichtman Research Group. US officials for years have warned that equipment from the Chinese suppliers can be used by Chinese spies for espionage. Huawei and ZTE have rejected those claims.

"Verizon's networks do not include equipment from any untrusted vendors. In addition, the company is not seeking funds from the FCC to replace equipment," a Verizon representative wrote in response to questions from Light Reading. "Verizon has a relatively small number of devices, called VoiceLink, which were made by Huawei and are used by some customers to make voice calls. There are no data services associated with these devices. Earlier this year, Verizon started replacing these units. That effort was temporarily halted by the pandemic and is now underway again. We expect to have all Voicelink devices fully retired by the end of the year."

"We are extremely confident in the security and integrity of our network and were recently accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as compliant with the US government’s highest security standards," a CenturyLink representative wrote in response to questions from Light Reading. "The legacy equipment at issue cannot be used to route or redirect user traffic and is not within the restrictions established by the Secure and Trusted Network Communications Act. We regularly tested this equipment and shared results with federal security agencies. Nevertheless, we’ve actively been removing and replacing equipment and continue to work with federal policymakers to accelerate the process."

The FCC said companies that participated in its "rip and replace" information-collection program collectively estimated it will cost a total of $1.837 billion to remove and replace Huawei or ZTE equipment in their networks. The agency said "filers that appear to initially qualify for reimbursement" lower that total to $1.618 billion. Congress has not yet appropriated funds for the "rip and replace" program.

The FCC's list of US telecom companies using Huawei or ZTE equipment and services includes:

  • Adak Eagle Enterprises

  • Albion Telephone Company

  • América Móvil

  • American Broadband Communications et al.

  • American Samoa Telecom

  • ATN International

  • Baraga Telephone Company

  • Bristol Bay Cellular Partnership

  • Buffalo Lake Erie Wireless Systems Co.

  • CenturyLink

  • Chariton Valley Telephone Corporation

  • Cincinnati Bell

  • Cintex Wireless

  • Copper Valley Telephone Cooperative

  • Crystal Automation Systems

  • DeKalb Telephone Cooperative

  • ENMR Telephone Cooperative

  • Futurum Communications Corp.

  • Gallatin Wireless Internet

  • Hargray Communications Group

  • Hiawatha Communications

  • Hilliary Communications

  • IdeaTek Systems

  • JAB Wireless

  • James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company

  • Laurel Highland Total Communications

  • Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative

  • LICT Corporation

  • Mark Twain Rural Telephone Company

  • Mercury Network Corporation

  • Metronet Holdings

  • Natural G.C.

  • NE Colorado Cellular

  • Nemont Telephone Cooperative

  • NewPhone Wireless

  • North American Loca

  • Oklahoma Western Telephone Company

  • Panhandle Telephone Cooperative

  • Pine Belt Communications Co.

  • Pine Telephone Company

  • Roome Telecommunications

  • Santel Communications Cooperative

  • SI Wireless

  • TC Telephone

  • Texas 10

  • Triangle Telephone Cooperative Assn.

  • Union Holding Corp.

  • United Telephone Association

  • Verizon Communications

  • Western Elite Incorporated Services

  • Windstream Holdings

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

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