FCC orders inventory audits ahead of Chinese purge

The FCC has begun surveying the US telco landscape to understand how deeply embedded Huawei and ZTE equipment is in the nation’s networks ahead of a ‘rip and replace’ project.

Thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed into law in August 2018, Huawei and ZTE have been banned from any meaningful work in the US. It is not an outright ban, but the wording of the Act has effectively made it impossible for the duo to sell equipment to US telcos. Following the establishment of this Act, the FCC also adopted rules which dictated Universal Service Funds could not be used to fund networks and purchases with equipment from vendors deemed to pose a national security threat.

Now the work has begun to identify and remove the equipment which is already in existing networks. Data must be submitted to the FCC on or before April 22.

“Huawei and ZTE have been initially designated as threats to national security,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Given that those designations may become final this spring, we are moving forward quickly to identify where equipment and services from these suppliers are embedded in our communications networks and, where they do have a foothold, to be in a position to help remove them.

“Today we’ve begun to collect the data we will need to protect our networks and protect the American people.”

What should be worth noting it that while exposure to Chinese equipment in the US networks is very low, this is a symbolic gesture emanating from the White House. The US is attempting to eradicate every presence of Huawei and ZTE from the connectivity landscape. It is a political move which makes a point in the conflict between the White House and Beijing, irrelevant if it is likely to cost the US Government millions.

Huawei has been fighting the NDAA and the block of funds for rural service providers who want to use Huawei equipment on the grounds it is an unconstitutional use of power, designed to target a single company which has not been prosecuted in the courts. While a judge in Texas upheld Government actions in recent weeks, Huawei will not be the only company disappointed by the outcome.

The Chinese vendor has continuously argued that it aids smaller telcos across the US and some certainly spoke out in support. MobileNation CEO Michael Beehn said Huawei was the only company cost-effective enough to serve its small footprint of 20,000 customers, while Viaero Wireless CEO Frank DiReco said he had worked with other more expensive vendors in the past, though deployments were never successful.

These are all moot points now however, as the FCC has officially taken the first steps in the quest to purge Chinese equipment every dark and small corner of the US connectivity landscape.

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