U.S. lawmakers back $1.9 billion program to rip and replace Huawei & ZTE telecom gear

According to two sources briefed on the matter at hand, U.S. lawmakers will back $1.9 billion program to fund a removal of Chinese communication gear that it deems as a threat to national security risks.

Lawmakers will also back a $3.2 billion program for an emergency broadband which will benefit low-income Americans, confirmed senior congressional aides.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer these program, part of a COVID-19 relief bill will see an investment $7 billion to increase the broadband access which will “help millions of students, families and unemployed workers afford the broadband they need during the pandemic.”

Earlier this year in June, Federal Communications Commission had designated Huawei Technologies Co and ZTE Corp as national security threats, thus barring them from tapping an $8.3 billion government fund to purchase equipment from the companies.

Earlier this month, the FCC finalized rules that require carriers to “rip and replace” ZTE or Huawei equipment; the move is awaiting funding from Congress.

The bill “establishes a temporary, emergency broadband benefit program at the FCC to help low-income Americans, including those economically challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, get connected or remain connected to broadband,” reads a fact sheet.

The program will also provide a $50 monthly subsidy to qualifying households “to help them afford broadband service and an internet-connected device.”

According to a source, the bill expands the eligibility for the rip-and-replace reimbursement program to communications providers with 10 million subscribers or less; it however prioritizes reimbursements for providers with 2 million subscribers or less.

The bill will include $285 million for connecting minority communities and will establish an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). It will also offer funding to “support minority-serving education institutions, including when they partner with minority-owned businesses, to expand broadband capacity and use at the school and in the surrounding community,” states the fact sheet.

The bill also includes around $250 million for additional FCC support for telehealth and $1 billion for a NTIA tribal broadband connectivity grant program. It also allocates a separate $300 million NTIA grant program to promote broadband expansion to underserved Americans, especially in rural areas, as well as $65 Million for better broadband maps.

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