Huawei has had a rough year in the United States with various federal agencies and legislators using the telecom vendor as their punching bag. They’ve used various tactics from legislation to, most recently, attacking Google for its collaboration with Huawei. But some small American wireless carriers rely on Huawei equipment in their networks. And they’re defending the Chinese telecom vendor from an attack by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These wireless carriers say that not being able to use Huawei equipment would “gravely impair” their ability to do business. And they can’t afford to “rip and replace” their equipment.
In March, FCC Chairman Aji Pai proposed a ban on the use of money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to purchase equipment or services “from companies that pose a national security threat to United States communications networks.”
Pai’s statement didn’t mention Huawei or ZTE by name, but it’s generally assumed those were the companies he was referring to. ZTE’s troubles became much more severe in April when The U.S. Department of Commerce forbade American companies from selling components to ZTE for seven years.
But Huawei responded to Pai in April with a statement, saying, “We pose no security threat in any country. No government agency has ever tried to intervene in our operations or decisions. U.S. authorities should not base major legislative decisions on speculation and rumor.”
Wireless Carriers Fight Back
In June, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), a trade group for about 100 wireless providers, filed comments with the FCC saying the proposed rule banning their ability to buy some equipment with USF funds would “gravely impair the ability of wireless providers to serve the needs of low-income, rural, and unserved and underserved communities.”
The carriers say they have built their networks with equipment provided by companies targeted by the proposed rule. And as they continue to evolve their networks and prepare for 5G, they “simply cannot afford the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to replace and rebuild their networks using only equipment and services from a new list of approved providers.”
They claim they would have to “rip and replace” their existing equipment because it won’t interoperate with other vendors’ equipment, and it won’t have the support and maintenance of the original vendor. They also argue that eliminating suppliers of telco equipment goes against the notion of healthy competition and will result in higher prices for their rural and underserved customers.
Executives from seven CCA member companies filed declarations to go along with the official comments to the FCC. Those CCA member companies are:
- SI Wireless, serving portions of Kentucky and Tennessee
- Viaero Wireless, serving parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota
- James Valley Telecommunications, serving customers in South Dakota
- United Telephone Association, serving customers in Kansas
- Nemont Telephone Cooperative, serving parts of Montana and North Dakota
- Pine Belt Cellular, serving five Alabama counties
- Union Wireless, serving customers in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho
Huawei USA’s headquarters is in Plano, Texas, and its website says it employs more than 1,200 professionals and support staff across its U.S. facilities. But the company apparently closed its Washington, D.C. office earlier this year. The company has declined several requests by SDxCentral to discuss its U.S. business.