US politicians introduced new legislation which would set aside $700 million from future spectrum auctions to help rural operators foot the bill of replacing Huawei kit in their networks.
Their proposals would also block domestic operators from using equipment from Huawei or ZTE in future 5G networks, and require the Federal Communications Commission to finalise a rule prohibiting the use of federal funds to purchase their gear.
The move comes after the US banned domestic companies from doing business with Huawei (a decision subsequently put on hold for 90 days), and addresses concerns expressed by rural operators about the cost of replacing network kit.
Regional operators are the primary users of Huawei equipment in the US.
Senator Mark Warner, one of the measure’s sponsors, noted in a statement previous policies incentivised such operators to use equipment from Chinese vendors “because it was the cheapest around”.
The Rural Wireless Association previously estimated nearly a quarter of its members use Huawei equipment and figured the cost to replace its kit at between $800 million and $1 billion.
Another group of small and regional operators, the Competitive Carriers Association, similarly said many of its members use Huawei gear in compliance with existing law. In March, its CEO called for clarity on the issue and funding to help operators make any changes the government mandates.
Senator Roger Wicker said the new measure is intended to fix past mistakes, ensuring national security and “continued American leadership in advanced wireless technology deployment,” while also offering “relief to those providers that need to replace foreign equipment within their networks”.
To become law, the bill must be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back