The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said any “backsliding” on the clash with China would be a “monumental mistake”

When the US first banned Huawei from their national networks, there was an outcry from the operators around the country, many of whom relied heavily on the Chinese technology and would face major costs to replace the equipment. This was especially true of smaller providers.

By late December 2020, the FCC had secured $1.895 billion had been secured to help support these smaller providers carry out removal of Huawei and ZTE gear, mandated by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019.

At the time of announcement, these funds were only to be made available to CSPs with 2 million or fewer customers, but recent discussions by the FCC could see this figure increased.

On Wednesday, the FCC voted to seek comment on a number of proposed changes to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, with three important shifts at the forefront. 

Firstly, the FCC fears that the current cap on the size of companies that can access the funds is too restrictive, proposing that CSPs with up to 10 million customers should be able to apply. Secondly, reimbursements should be limited to equipment or services obtained before the 30th of June 2020. Finally, in the event that demand for the funding exceeds capacity, a prioritisation plan should be implemented, putting applicants with 2 million or fewer customers first, noncommercial educational institutions second, followed by all remaining applicants.

The funding thus far does not specify if it can only be used for wireless equipment or can also be used for wired networks.

As of yet, there is no clear timeline for when the funds will finally become available. There is still many layers of bureaucracy to pass through, with the operators having no way to apply until all the details have been finalised.

While some have been hopeful that Joe Biden taking over as President from the divisive Donald Trump will mean a cooling of tensions between the US and China, initial signs seem to suggest that the new administration will be taking a similarly tough stance, at least in the short term. 

Speaking at the FCC’s open meeting on Wednesday, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said that China’s threat to telecoms providers was significant and extended beyond just Huawei and ZTE.

“Any backsliding or softening of our approach to China will be a monumental mistake,” he said.

In other FCC news, new chair Jessica Rosenworcel has just yesterday formed a task force to oversee the development of new fixed and mobile broadband coverage maps, thus allowing the government to better allocate funding to underserved areas. The mapping project was allocated $65 million in December 2020. 


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