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FCC Urged to Move on Tech Rip-and-Replace Without Funds

FCC's 2020 seal
(Image credit: FCC)

The bipartisan leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee is asking the FCC to get moving on a suspect network tech rip-and-replace program Congress mandated, but has yet to fund.

The program requires smaller service providers to remove and replace suspect network technology, like that of Huawei and ZTE, which have already been given that designation by the FCC, which has estimated that ripping and replacing that tech, plus any other companies it adds to the list, could cost $1.6 billion.

The FCC is planning to vote next month on a framework for ripping and replacing.

Related: Senate Bill Would Boost Rip-and-Replace Eligibility

The item would adopt rules requiring Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) to "remove and replace covered equipment from their networks," and create a "Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program" to fund smaller carriers' removal and replacement of suspect tech, at least once Congress has appropriated the $1.6 billion.

As planned, the start of the reimbursement program would be "condition[ed] on Congress appropriating the funds the Commission estimates that program will cost."

But House E&C chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) don't want the FCC to wait for the money before setting the process in motion. 

In a letter from the leaders to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a copy of which was supplied to Multichannel News, they say: "While the Program has not yet been funded by Congress, there is demonstrated bipartisan and bicameral support for doing so. In the meantime, carriers are moving forward to remove their suspect equipment and need guidance."

Related: Huawei Opposes FCC Rip-and-Replace 

Pallone and Walden want the FCC to develop and release the list of suspect tech, including equipment, software and services, ASAP, and to "reassure" companies they can buy replacement equipment before the program is funded so long as they are eligible.

Invoking COVID-19, they said companies will need to replace tech without disrupting service. 

Pai has been warned by Rep. Pallone and other Dems not to make any controversial moves during the lame duck period, but Pallone and Walden agreed it was a "non-controversial action" that should be taken ASAP.

“Chairman Pai strongly agrees with the letter’s goal of ensuring that our nation’s communications networks are secure," said an FCC spokesperson. "To that end, the Commission has taken significant action to protect against threats to our communications networks, including prohibiting the use of money from the Universal Service Fund to purchase or support equipment or services from companies posing a national security threat. Additionally, he just announced that on Dec. 10, the FCC will vote on rules to implement the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement program, months before the statutory deadline. He also agrees that it is more vital than ever that Congress appropriate funds to allow the Commission to fully support carriers through the remove and replace process.” 

“I thank chairman Pallone and Republican Leader Walden for their focus on ensuring the FCC provides assistance to companies that need to replace suspect network equipment and assurance that eligibility for expenses to be reimbursed not be in jeopardy if they begin the process prior to the program being fully funded," said Competitive Carriers Association president Steven K. Berry. "Smaller carriers, with already limited resources, greatly depend on funds from the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program to continue providing critical wireless services to their customers as they transition to approved, more secure technologies, and the FCC plays an essential role in ensuring these companies have clear guidance during this challenging process. I thank Congressmen Pallone and Walden for their leadership on this issue and remain committed to working with Congress to fully fund the program as soon as possible.”