Rural carriers get another 90-day extension to work with Huawei

The Trump Administration gave U.S. companies a third 90-day extension to continue working with Huawei. The extension relates to the government’s Entity List, which effectively bans Huawei from buying components from U.S. companies without government approval. But the Entity List also affects rural carriers that have Huawei equipment in their networks, said Alexi Maltas, SVP and general counsel for the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA).

Maltas said the extension allows small carriers to continue to work with Huawei on activities that maintain their existing networks, such as running Huawei software updates and patches.

The U.S. Department of Commerce manages the Entity List. Yesterday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement, “The Temporary General License extension will allow carriers to continue to service customers in some of the most remote areas of the United States who would otherwise be left in the dark.”

The Commerce Department added Huawei to its Entity List in May over concerns that Huawei is engaged in activities “contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” 

RELATED: Commerce Dept. bans Huawei, 70 affiliates from sourcing U.S. components

The Entity List was mainly aimed at cutting off Huawei’s ability to source components from U.S. companies. But Huawei has pointed out that this not only harms Huawei, but it also harms the U.S. companies that supply the components. Huawei said the move "has caused significant economic harm to the American companies with which Huawei does business, disrupted collaboration and undermined the mutual trust on which the global supply chain depends."

The 90-day extension provides some “general license” relief to American companies that supply Huawei with components. It allows U.S. companies to sell Huawei certain products that don't pose a security risk. Apparently, the Commerce Department has also received more than 200 applications for more specific licenses to work with Huawei, but the Commerce Department has not acted on those requests.

Rural Carriers

In addition to dealing with the repercussions of the Entity List, rural telecom carriers are having to monitor Huawei news on multiple fronts.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is circulating an order that would prohibit the use of Universal Service Fund (USF) dollars to purchase equipment or services from any company—like Huawei—that poses a national security threat. The FCC will discuss the issue at its meeting today.

RELATED: FCC circulates draft on Huawei ‘rip and replace’ program

Pai said in a recent blog post, “My plan calls first for an assessment to find out exactly how much equipment from Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, is in these networks, followed by financial assistance to these carriers to help them transition to more trusted vendors. We’ll seek public input on how big this ‘rip and replace’ program needs to be and how best to finance it.”

In addition, legislators from both the Senate and House are advancing bills to address Huawei.

The U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee has introduced legislation to authorize $1 billion for small telecom providers to rip and replace Huawei equipment in their networks. The bill directs the FCC to establish a reimbursement program funded with $1 billion to help smaller telcos replace equipment from Chinese companies.

RELATED: House bill asks for $1B to rip and replace Huawei equipment

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a similar bill in May, entitled “The United States 5G Leadership Act of 2019,” which would appropriate $700 million to help telecommunications providers remove Chinese equipment from their networks.