World Insights: U.S. asking domestic telecom carriers to abandon Chinese suppliers a self-defeating mission

2021-10-30 07:06:01 GMT2021-10-30 15:06:01(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Xinhua writers Deng Xianlai and Xu Yuan

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. telecom carriers relying on supplies from China's Huawei Technology and ZTE Corporation can file applications starting Friday for federal reimbursement to cover the expenses for scraping Chinese-made gear from U.S. networks.

The Federal Communications Commission's 1.9-billion-U.S.-dollar "rip and replace" program, available for telecom companies with 10 million or fewer customers, was rolled out following an allegation that Huawei and ZTE posed a threat to U.S. national security, a threat which has never been substantiated yet endlessly propagated by Washington.

Small telecom companies have become indispensable to Americans living in the far-flung rural inland because it's not in the best interest of large carriers economically to invest in remote, scarcely populated towns and villages.

Even before the national security rhetoric was hyped up, these companies have been running on small budgets to provide their customers with landline or mobile telephone, cable TV and broadband Internet services, all of which have become essential needs during the COVID-19 pandemic as people work remotely or study online.

The government's mandate couldn't come at a worse time, as the small carriers, already struggling to provide their customers with adequate services during the pandemic, are facing a twofold plight: chip shortages brought about by supply chain disruptions and a scarcity of trained workers for new network buildout.

The FCC program is unnecessary, to say the very least, even for those companies to whom the subsidies could be of help so that they are able to survive the multi-year, costly transition to so-called "secure and trusted" networks.

Without this groundless requirement to toss out the Chinese equipment that has over many years been proven by its U.S. users to be both cost-effective and qualitatively reliable, affected companies could have concentrated on meaningful businesses that bring them more profits while contributing to the betterment of the communities they serve.

James Kail, CEO of LHTC Broadband, told Xinhua that discarding the Huawei equipment would be a "diversion" for his company. LHTC has been serving 1,200 rural Pennsylvanian households with the Huawei solution in the last seven years, during which the equipment ran perfectly without any security loopholes.

"Obviously, from a personal standpoint, I don't like the idea that I have to replace a solution that's working perfectly fine," Kail said, adding that blacklisting a certain product simply because it has "a Chinese label on the outside" is not the right approach to tackling potential U.S. national security threats.

Also less fortunate are those providers who will face bankruptcy as a result of being compelled to abandon their time-tested partnerships with the Chinese suppliers and who can't be rescued by government bailouts.

"Anything can be fixed with time and money, except death," said Carri Bennet, general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), a trade group representing small wireless network operators. The group estimated in 2018 that 25 percent of its members used equipment from Huawei and ZTE.

Tennessee-based DTC Communication is one of those carriers facing the possibility of being driven out of the entire telecom industry because of the "rip and replace" drama.

DTC's purchase in 2014 of the competitively-priced 3G equipment from ZTE was partly financed by the government, which granted the aid money to the company in a "reverse" auction where participating firms with the lowest bid won.

Ironically, it is the same government that's now asking DTC to dump the equipment.

"Who can I trust?" wondered Chief Executive Chris Townson, who bemoaned that DTC to some degree was the victim of the government's own penny-pinching programs expanding broadband coverage in the rural area.

DTC exited the mobile network industry in 2018 due to concerns over the uncertainty created by the "rip and replace" initiative. It still operates a ZTE-supplied fixed wireless network, the replacement of which, however, will not be covered by the reimbursement.

Townson said the idea that DTC could ultimately come ahead financially "is a farce," adding that any delay or problems with the reimbursement program "would cause us to make some really hard decisions, up to and including exiting the business."

For the sake of both small telecom companies whose very survival is at stake and rural Americans whose connection with the outside world should not be needlessly disrupted, the U.S. government really ought to abandon its guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude toward Chinese vendors and do what is truly good for the American people. Enditem