The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has opened the filing window for the $1.9 billion Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program. In September, the FCC announced that the filing window would run from Oct. 29 to Jan. 14, 2022.
The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program was established as part of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, and will be managed by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau. Through the reimbursement program, the FCC will use $1.9 billion in Federal funding to reimburse providers of advanced communications services with ten million or fewer customers for costs incurred in the removal, replacement, and disposal of covered communications equipment or services from their networks that pose a national security risk.
“Trust in our communications systems is fundamental, and to preserve that trust we need to identify threats and mitigate risk,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today we are doing just that by opening up a new program that will reimburse providers for the cost of replacing equipment and services that pose a threat to national security. Removing insecure equipment from existing networks after installation is challenging. This program is here to help. We also want our communications companies to have the opportunity to use promising and innovative alternatives, like interoperable open radio access network solutions, as we build tomorrow’s networks.”
The program is intended to help telecommunication providers remove equipment and services produced or provided by China-based Huawei and ZTE – two companies that have come under scrutiny for being potential national security risks. Reimbursement will only be available for equipment or services obtained before June 30, 2020.
After the filing window closes, applications will be evaluated by the Reimbursement Program Fund Administrator based on three criteria: whether the application is complete, whether the applicant is eligible for the Reimbursement Program, and the reasonableness of the cost estimates provided by the applicant. Approved applications will receive a funding allocation commitment with the United States Treasury based on the approved cost estimates for removing, replacing, and disposing of eligible covered communications equipment and services. Following the allocation commitment, telecom providers can then file to receive funding disbursements from their allocation for actual expenses incurred through the Reimbursement Program’s reimbursement claim request filing process.
The filing window opens just as the Senate and House have passed the Secure Equipment Act, which would prevent equipment manufactured by Chinese state-backed firms such as Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hikvision, and Dahua from being further utilized and marketed in the United States. The bill’s co-sponsors say the new legislation closes a loophole in the FCC rules from the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 which only prevents equipment from being purchased with Federal funding. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said they introduced the bill to close this loophole and “further prevent identified security threats from having a presence in U.S. telecommunications networks.”