Washington, D.C. – The Rural Wireless Association, Inc. (RWA) has filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling requesting the Federal Communications Commission clarify that rural carriers are permitted to seek reimbursement for costs that they have incurred in furtherance of their replacement of Huawei and ZTE equipment prior to the FCC’s adoption of final rules. “The delay in funding from Congress and adoption of final rules by the FCC is causing massive uncertainty among small rural carriers who deployed Huawei or ZTE equipment,” stated Carri Bennet, General Counsel. RWA’s impacted members have been deterred from making the necessary investments in replacement equipment and services as they continue to struggle to maintain their networks given that they are now also prohibited from using universal service funds to support and maintain them. “Like it or not, these networks are providing essential services to first responders and those now remotely working and attending school online during the COVID-19 pandemic,” added John Nettles, CEO of Pine Belt Cellular, an RWA member that deployed ZTE equipment in rural Alabama seven years ago.
Given that this is a critical national security issue, Congress must come together and fund the reimbursement program authorized by the Secure and Trusted Networks Act – legislation that passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Trump March 12. “In the current partisan political environment, we have one thing which both sides have unanimously agreed — secure the national supply chain by removing Huawei and ZTE from U.S. networks,” noted Bennet. “This makes Congress’ failure to approve the funding all the more frustrating,” adds Bennet. “We are between a rock and a hard place,” said Nettles. “The COVID-19 pandemic is placing huge demands on our broadband service and we can’t fulfill even 50% of the new service inquiries we have received in the last 6 weeks alone. If I had assurance that the funding was imminent and could begin purchasing new equipment, I would do so in a heartbeat,” promised Nettles.
RWA is hopeful that through its Petition the FCC can at least provide assurances that costs being incurred prior to adoption of its rules will eventually be reimbursed and that rural carriers who receive universal service support can put some of those funds toward the initial outlay. Ideally, the FCC will adopt the rules at its November Open Meeting and Congress will approve the funding post-haste.