The U.S. government has allocated $1.9 billion to help small telecom providers replace Chinese equipment in their networks, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says these companies have requested $5.6 billion.
Over the past years, the United States has taken steps to rid the country’s networks of Chinese networking devices due to national security concerns. The U.S. and others are concerned that China could force local companies to plant backdoors into products deployed worldwide and then use those backdoors for spying or causing disruption.
While no evidence of wrongdoing has been made public, the U.S. has been trying to get private companies and federal agencies to stop buying gear made by Chinese companies and replace the devices currently on their networks. There are several companies that are said to pose an unacceptable national security risk, including Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hikvision and Dahua.
In 2020, then-president Donald Trump signed a bill whose goal was to help small telecom providers replace equipment made by Huawei and ZTE. In 2021, the FCC unveiled a $1.9 billion project named the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (SCRP).
As part of the SCRP, communications services providers with up to 10 million customers would be reimbursed for the expenses associated with the removal, replacement and disposal of equipment made by Huawei or ZTE that was obtained before July 2020. The FCC announced a filing window of three months, between late October 2021 and late January 2022.
The agency announced on Friday that service providers have initially requested roughly $5.6 billion from the SCRP, which is $3.7 billion over the allocated budget.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said her organization received more than 181 applications from carrieres that have developed plans to remove and replace Huawei and ZTE equipment. The applications are still being reviewed, but it’s clear that the amount significantly exceeds what the government has set aside for the project and the FCC is hoping to work out a plan with Congress.
“While we have more work to do to review these applications, I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that there is enough funding available for this program to advance Congress’s security goals and ensure that the U.S. will continue to lead the way on 5G security,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.
On the other hand, telecom companies could have difficulties in obtaining new equipment. Due to the global chip shortage, there are significant delays in getting networking devices from American companies such as Cisco, Aruba, Palo Alto Networks, or Juniper.