The FCC has begun developing rules for its so-called “Rip & Replace” program to reimburse small, rural carriers for removing likely untrustworthy gear from their networks. Last week, it published a catalog of network equipment that could be eligible for reimbursement costs. Inside Towers reported the Commission seeks public input on the catalog.
During a regulatory session as part of the Competitive Carriers Association’s virtual Mobile Carriers Show on Tuesday, “Rip & Replace” was a hot topic. John Godfrey is Senior Vice President for Public Policy in the Office of U.S Public Affairs at Samsung Electronics America. He said he’s heard there’s a “challenge” with getting all of the untrusted gear removed and new equipment installed in rural carriers’ networks within a year. Godfrey said “there might not be enough tower crews” for example, “so carriers might have to ask the FCC for more time. We’ll see how that goes,” and if the agency grants extensions, he explained.
Godfrey noted a “top question for CCA members is, ‘How did I get stuck in this situation?’” The agency, he explained, is “following the lead of intelligence communities within the federal government. “Hopefully, [this] won’t happen again.” He’s referring to members who legally purchased the gear that is now considered a gateway for telecom manufacturers Huawei and ZTE to illegally channel information to the Chinese government.
Samsung, headquartered in South Korea, he said, is “an ally” of the United States. He said other vendors are coming on board too, with new communications network equipment. “There are now new choices for rural carriers.”
Panelists also discussed President Joe Biden’s forthcoming infrastructure package. Biden is expected to reveal details of that package today in Pittsburgh. Many lawmakers in Congress and the telecom industry anticipate several billion of the estimated $3 trillion dollars will be devoted to broadband deployment projects.
Panelists debated whether the bill will pass Congress on a bi-partisan basis. Trey Hanbury, a partner at legal firm Hogan Lovells US LLP, believes wireless carriers need to get involved in these debates so the measures are not all fiber focused. CCA Senior Director for Legislative Affairs Maribeth Collins believes the package will be voted on by the House floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “expects people to multi-task. I do think they’re ready to go.” Collins said midterm elections are coming up and members “have to show voters, these infrastructure projects turn into jobs.”
Greg Orlando, Counsel for law firm BakerHostetler, said Senate Commerce Committee members are going to have to listen to committee members from rural districts like Ranking Member Roger Wicker.
“I am optimistic,” about the chances of an infrastructure package passing Congress, said Hanbury. He said members of the public think broadband is just as important as electricity and water. “It is an essential service. I think that will bring broadband up to the front of the line,” said Hanbury. “If anything has the [power] to break through gridlock in Washington, it’s broadband.”
The event continues through today. Register here.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief