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Senate approves $1bn rural telecoms replacement bill

Senate Washington DC NEW .jpg

The US Senate has voted to pass the Secure and Trusted Telecommunications Act that will prohibit the use of federal funds to buy equipment “untrusted suppliers”.

The bill was introduced in response to the concerns in the US about Chinese vendors and will directly impact sales for companies like Huawei and ZTE.

"The existence of Huawei’s technology in our networks represents an immense threat to America’s national and economic security," said the House sponsors in a statement.

The news follows an announcement made last week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) saying that it has begun monitoring carriers that are using equipment from Huawei or ZTE.

“Huawei and ZTE have been initially designated as threats to national security. 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,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

The Secure and Trusted Telecommunications Act also includes US$1 billion in funding to help small rural telcos “rip and replace” equipment from any “untrusted suppliers”. This is open to telcos with less than two million subscribers and although rural carriers are required to remove equipment from any vendors on the untrusted list, the FCC is reportedly considering creating a proposal  for all companies receiving government funds.

Speaking to The Hill, a spokesperson for Huawei said: "Unfortunately, the legislation that was just passed is considerably underfunded, would take longer than anticipated and could put at risk some of our customers, who serve the most underserved areas.”

“This legislation will simply reduce the ability of broadband providers to provide the most secure network equipment and in turn hurt local consumers and businesses."

Though the bill has passed in the Senate, it still has to be signed off by President Trump before it can be made law.

“Telecommunications equipment from certain foreign adversaries poses a significant threat to our national security, economic prosperity, and the future of U.S. leadership in advanced wireless technology,” said senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“By establishing a ‘rip and replace’ program, this legislation will provide meaningful safeguards for our communications networks and more secure connections for Americans. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for coming together to help move this bill to the President’s desk.”

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