FCC returns China equipment replacement applications

US regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found material deficiencies with two-thirds of reimbursement applications for removing equipment from Chinese companies deemed to be a threat to national security, kicking the claims back to operators.

In a letter to Congress, FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel explained the regulator had received 181 applications, mostly from rural operators, of which 122 were not sufficient to be considered under a reimbursement programme.

The FCC announced the rip and replace programme in July 2021, offering a pot totalling $1.9 billion to operators serving less than 10 million customers for replacing equipment from Huawei and ZTE after the vendors were labelled a security risk.

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Its initial deadline for applications was 14 January.

The FCC noted applicants now have 15 days to fix their submission, with the process expected to be completed by mid-July.

While the pot on offer amounts to $1.9 billion, the US regulator estimates it will actually cost around $5.3 billion to replace the vendors’ equipment, with rural operators in the particular feeling the pinch in having to overhaul their infrastructure.

Rosenworcel added the FCC would prioritise operators with a customer base of 2 million or less, noting all but one applicant so far falls within this group.