FCC commissioner calls for U.S. government to fund removal of existing Huawei gear from carrier networks

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has called for the U.S. federal government to address the fact that many existing 4G wireless networks are currently using Huawei equipment. He said the FCC should identify Huawei gear in use in U.S. networks, and that the government should help carriers remove and replace that equipment.

In an op-ed published by The Hill, Starks noted that the U.S. government’s recent attempts to thwart Huawei’s presence in wireless networks due to potential national security risk have focused on building out 5G networks. “Any concrete federal actions have focused on how to deal with Huawei going forward—they don’t address the fact that some carriers already use this equipment,” Starks wrote.

“Policymakers must address this issue as soon as possible. But, none of the actions of the administration or FCC so far have dealt with this problem,” he added.

Starks claimed that Huawei equipment has been sold to wireless carriers in the U.S. for as little as one-quarter what other vendors charge for the same functionality, and that carriers have relied on Huawei to supply “antennas and radios, electronics that move data across networks, and routers, servers and switches that make up the network core” of existing 4G networks.

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Pointing to an FCC filing (PDF) from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), Starks estimated that replacing Huawei equipment with gear from other vendors could cost carriers between $150 million and $1 billion. He proposed the government should offer funding to affected carriers to help with the transition.

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Last week, a group of bipartisan senators introduced legislation with a similar aim. If adopted, the bill (PDF) would establish a “supply chain trust fund” to help wireless carriers remove Huawei equipment from their networks.

The fund will offer “significant resources to ensure that rural and regional providers can prioritize investments that eliminate this equipment from their existing networks where it poses a security threat,” said Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA), who is a co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement. “This type of effort will be an important signal to international partners that we are putting resources behind this issue, and encouraging them to do the same.”