Bill addresses funding shortfall in FCC’s Rip and Replace Program
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Deb Fischer, members of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced the Defend Our Networks Act. The bill would address the FCC’s funding shortfall by reallocating roughly 3% of unobligated emergency COVID-relief funds to the FCC’s Reimbursement Program, strengthening communications networks nationwide and bolstering U.S. national security.
“We can’t let the Chinese government be embedded in our critical telecommunications networks. We’ve banned their equipment. Now we need to replace what’s already there. Our Defend Our Networks Act will protect our rural wireless networks by ripping out risky equipment,” said Hickenlooper.
“We know that there are thousands of pieces of high-risk Chinese equipment in our nation’s communications infrastructure. We know that, left unchecked, this equipment poses a direct threat to U.S. national security. Yet the current program shortfall is preventing eligible carriers from accessing the resources they need to cover the costs of replacing dangerous network gear. I’m proud to introduce the Defend Our Networks Act with Senator Hickenlooper to prioritize protecting our nation from rising threats posed by the CCP and supporting our rural communities,” said Fischer.
The Defend Our Networks Act would use a portion of unobligated emergency COVID-relief funds to address a pressing budget shortfall in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, known as the Rip and Replace Program. The program reimburses smaller communications service providers for the costs of removing and replacing risky Chinese network equipment.
Discarding the roughly 24,000 pieces of Chinese-made communications equipment across the United States is critical to protecting U.S. national security from spying and other threats. Failure to properly fund the Rip and Replace Program would also devastate communications access in rural communities throughout the country, as providers are faced with shutting down insecure network elements.
“I personally want to thank Senator Fischer of Nebraska and Senator Hickenlooper of Colorado for their support of the ‘Defend our Networks Act.’ We have followed and complied with all government requests and are committed to fulfilling our shared mission. Our company is the largest regional carrier in the United States covering Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota. We have completed the replacement of our Core Switches with the latest Ericsson Technology. We have begun the process of replacing equipment on over 1,000+ towers and structures. It is an expensive and daunting task, and we appreciate the continued support from our Local, State and Federal Government partners,” said Viaero Wireless President Frank DiRico.
With close ties to the Chinese government, equipment from Huawei Technologies Company and ZTE Corporation present significant risks to U.S. national security and domestic communications networks. The FCC has prohibited the purchase of Huawei and ZTE products, and banned the use of FCC funds to expand or maintain networks containing any Huawei or ZTE equipment.
In 2020, Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, which created the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program at the FCC — also known as the Rip and Replace Program — to reimburse smaller communications providers that remove, replace, and dispose of insecure equipment. However, the FCC confirmed last year that the program was $3.08 billion short in fulfilling eligible applications, disproportionally impacting smaller carriers in rural areas that possess more at-risk network gear.
In September, Hickenlooper and Fischer led more than 30 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Senate leadership in support of closing the funding shortfall.
Full text of the bill is available HERE.