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FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said today that the commission will begin accepting applications for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program on October 29. She announced the news at today’s monthly FCC meeting, where rules for the program were adopted.

The program has a budget of $1.895 billion for smaller communications providers to replace equipment from Huawei and ZTE that has been deemed to pose a threat to national security.

The rules adopted today for FCC secure networks reimbursement include:

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  • Modifying the equipment and services eligible for the program to include all communications equipment and services produced or provided by Huawei or ZTE
  • Establishing June 30, 2020 as the new date by which communications equipment must have been obtained to be eligible for reimbursement
  • Clarifies the definition of provider to include accredited public or private non-commercial educational institutions providing their own facilities-based educational broadband, as well as healthcare providers and libraries providing advanced communications services
  • Raises the eligibility cap for participation to include service providers with 10 million or fewer customers but gives priority to service providers with two million or fewer customers, followed by eligible educational institutions, then all remaining eligible applicants
  • Clarifies some requirements to assist eligible providers as they prepare to seek reimbursement for expenses related to removing, replacing and disposing of pertinent communications equipment or services

“In the United States, our communications systems are built on trust,” said Rosenworcel at today’s meeting. “We trust that our calls go through. We trust that our connections are free of unlawful surveillance. We trust that our networks are open to all without threat to national security or fundamental human rights.

“This trust in our communications systems is essential. But sustaining it requires effort. It requires that we identify threats to this trust and take actions to address them—and that is what we do today.”

She added that the need to replace network equipment also presents an opportunity.

“We want companies cutting out high-risk hardware from their networks to have the opportunity to use trusted alternatives, including traditional end-to-end proprietary gear as well as promising newer alternatives, like interoperable open radio access network solutions, or open RAN,” Rosenworcel said about FCC secure networks reimbursement, noting that the commission is planning a two-day virtual O-RAN showcase.

“This showcase is an opportunity to jump-start United States innovation in this critical technology,” she said, echoing other comments the FCC has made in support of O-RAN.

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