Enlarge /. Huawei characters displayed at CES 2020 in Las Vegas on Wednesday January 8, 2020.
Small ISPs are "stunned" that the Federal Communications Commission is banning Huawei and ZTE network devices during the ongoing pandemic.
The FCC already unanimously decided in November 2019 to ban Huawei and ZTE devices in projects funded by the Commission's Universal Service Fund (USF). However, the ban, inspired by fears that Chinese suppliers' equipment poses a national security risk, is currently in effect. The FCC announced yesterday that USF funds "no longer support the purchase, receipt, maintenance, improvement, modification, modification, or otherwise of devices or services manufactured or provided by these suppliers."
The Rural Wireless Association (RWA), a trading group that represents ISPs that serve fewer than 100,000 subscribers each, said yesterday that it was "stunned by the FCC's decision to use USF funds for Huawei and ZTE devices and – Services during a time when it’s important to keep rural Americans connected. "
The RWA declaration states:
As a result, rural network operators who use Huawei or ZTE devices or services on their networks can no longer support their critical networks serving hundreds of thousands of rural Americans and travelers in rural America. Given the difficulty in proving where specifically their USF support is deployed on their networks, rural airlines face a precarious situation as they strive to offer their customers extended payment terms, as requested by FCC Chairman (Ajit) Pai, and themselves to adapt to the impact of the T-Mobile / Sprint merger and continue to connect rural Americans to broadband and phone services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FCC's public announcement states that ISPs could "request that this ban be waived if necessary," but the RWA said ISPs should have had more time to file a waiver. "RWA members appreciate the possibility of making exceptions to this ban, but ask the Commission to give them enough time to file such exceptions before withdrawing their USF support, which is due to start tomorrow, July 1st," the group said yesterday.
FCC defends ban, but needs funding
The FCC said its ban targets Huawei and ZTE, "due to their significant ties to the Chinese government, the Chinese law that obliges them to assist in espionage activities, the known cyber security risks and vulnerabilities in their equipment, and the continuing concern of Congress and the Executive about this equipment. ""
"We cannot and will not allow the Chinese Communist Party to exploit network vulnerabilities and compromise our critical communications infrastructure," said Pai, describing corporate equipment as a risk "to our 5G future."
The ban is supported by Pai's Republican majority and FCC Democrats. Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said yesterday's action "will help protect our networks from new threats from Huawei and ZTE devices" and that the FCC "must not lose sight of the untrustworthy devices that already exist".
However, according to Starks, Congress has not yet provided funds to help ISPs replace Huawei and ZTE network devices with devices from other companies:
Financing is the missing piece. Congress recognized in the law on secure and trustworthy communication networks that many network operators need support to deviate from untrustworthy devices, but has not yet provided funds for replacement. I look forward to working with Congress and my colleagues to make sure there are enough resources to get the job done.
The legislation that Starks referred to became law in March, stating that $ 1 billion should be provided in "reimbursement funds for the removal, replacement, or disposal of covered communications equipment or services." However, the FCC recently said in a public announcement that "the reimbursement program created by the Secure Networks Act appears to require explicit funding from Congress", but the bill itself does not provide funding for the reimbursement program and states that the program must do so " separate from a federal universal service program established in accordance with Section 254 of the Communications Act ". "Apparently that means that the FCC cannot use money that it already has for the Huawei / ZTE exchange and has not received any money that it can use for this purpose from Congress.
While ISPs can no longer use USF money to maintain Huawei and ZTE devices, they do not have to technically completely shut down the devices. However, the FCC is considering another plan to request the removal of Huawei and ZTE devices from previously built USF-funded networks.
Huawei: FCC offered "no evidence"
When a Huawei spokesman was contacted by Ars, he said, "Huawei believes this arrangement is illegal since the FCC selected Huawei for national security. However, there is no evidence that Huawei poses a security risk. Instead The FCC simply assumes, based on a wrong view of Chinese law, that Huawei could come under the control of the Chinese government. "
A ZTE announcement in February said the company "does business only in accordance with all applicable laws in which we operate, including US export and sanction laws and regulations". We contacted ZTE today about the FCC decision and will update this story if we get a response.