The impact of Friday’s unanimous vote by the Federal Communications Commission to block United States telecoms from using federal funds to buy Huawei or ZTE equipment because of national security concerns will hit rural America hard, but FCC chair Ajit Pai told FOX Business that he will not leave America’s heartland in the lurch.
Speaking exclusively to Lou Dobbs on his eponymous program Friday, Pai said concerns about rural America are ones he shares “not just as a regulator but as a rural American myself having grown up in rural Kansas.”
An estimated dozen small rural carriers have bought equipment over the years from Huawei or ZTE, according to trade group the Rural Wireless Association.
Earlier this week, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said there are two bills pending in Congress to finance the replacement of the 3G and 4G equipment. One bill calls for $700 million, one calls for a billion.
The former bill is a Senate proposal, the latter from the House of Representatives. Both would authorize grants to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment in order to boost the security of the U.S. telecommunication network’s supply chain.
The funds from Congress would be essential, as part of the commission’s vote included consideration of a proposal that would require wireless carriers that use Huawei equipment to fully remove it from their networks.
For the FCC’s part, Pai said, “We are working with the rural carriers making sure they have a financing mechanism in place to make to have trusted vendors.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr expressed support for the pending FCC proposal, saying the two Chinese firms “cannot be trusted” and that both represent “a threat to our collective security.”
Pai said not making this move could prove more costly. “The only problem with cheap equipment from Huawei and ZTE is that eventually, it costs too much,” said Pai. “Especially when it comes to the security of our country I don’t think we can simply take a risk and hope for the best.”