Washington, D.C. – The Rural Wireless Association, Inc. is breathing a huge sigh of relief now that Congress has budgeted $1.9 billion to fund securing the Nation’s communications supply chain under the Secure Networks Act. The funding is the last and most important step to ensuring that Huawei and ZTE networks in the US can be replaced. The Reimbursement Program will be administered by the Federal Communications Commission and will provide funds to small rural carriers with under 2 million subscribers so they can replace and then remove their unsecure Huawei and ZTE equipment and services. Now that the funds have been appropriated and the FCC has adopted its Second Report and Order, which outlines the rules and procedures for the reimbursement program, rural carriers can confidently proceed with the replacement and removal process. “The assurance of funding provides these small rural carriers the ability to go out to capital markets to finance their needs with the assurance that funding is available for reimbursement to pay off these loans,” noted Carri Bennet, General Counsel.
John Nettles, President of Pine Belt Communications, representing one such rural carrier remarked, “Christmas came early for rural Alabama. Knowing I can confidently move forward after over two years of uncertainty that has stymied our ability to provide broadband services, especially during the COVID pandemic, means we can pull the trigger on our vendor contracts and issue pent up purchase orders.” Jana Wallace, CEO of Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, noted that “given the recent security breaches that have reportedly compromised our intelligence agencies and more, it is crucial that this funding to secure our communications networks is being made available now rather than later. We can now start our process with the assurance that we will have funding to finish the work.”
The FCC’s leadership on this issue and the bi-partisan work at both the agency and in Congress has been critical to this successful outcome. RWA’s members will continue to work closely with the FCC and industry vendors to swiftly and safely remove their unsecure equipment and services and replace it with next generation technologies to fuel security and innovation in rural America.