The FCC is getting set to implement plans to require smaller rural wireless carriers to rip and replace equipment from Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE. The commission was allocated $1.895 billion in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 for that purpose.
Equipment from Huawei and ZTE has been deemed to pose a security threat to U.S. communications networks. Larger U.S. carriers have avoided using equipment from these companies, but some smaller primarily wireless companies (and a few wireline) have deployed such equipment, primarily from Huawei.
In a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) adopted last week and made public yesterday, the FCC seeks comment on rules for the rip-and-replacement program, including:
• Raising the cap on eligibility for participation in the program to providers with 10 million or fewer customers
• What constitutes acceptable uses of reimbursement program disbursements
• Eligibility of replacement equipment and services
• Modifications to the prioritization plans in the event that requests for reimbursement exceed the $1.895 billion appropriation
• Modifying the scope of equipment and services eligible for reimbursement to allow recipients to use reimbursement funding to remove Huawei or ZTE equipment and services obtained on or before June 30, 2020
In a prepared statement about the NPRM, Rosenworcel said the NPRM and Huawei rip-and-replace plans are “only the beginning,” arguing that the U.S. needs “more than just a plan to address yesterday’s security challenges but with ideas for tomorrow’s as well.”
She cited Solar Winds software breaches as an example of the need for a “coordinated, multifaceted and strategic approach to protecting our networks from all threats.”
She noted that she has reached out to leadership at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as well as to the deputy national security advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, about coordinating network security efforts with the FCC.
In addition, Rosenworcel said the FCC is exploring changes to its internal process for reviewing matters related to national security which “right now are siloed within the agency’s various bureaus and offices.”
Stakeholders will have 21 days after the publication of the Huawei rip-and-replace NPRM in the federal register to file comments. Reply comments will be due 14 days later.