Feb 17 2020

Rural telecom companies typically run on lean budgets, and equipment from such Chinese manufacturers as Huawei and ZTE has been essential to helping these companies providing critical broadband and wireless services to rural Americans. But due to the ongoing US-China trade war, the FCC has barred rural telecom companies from using federal funds to purchase certain Chinese-made equipment. 

As General Counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Carri Bennet has advocated for the needs of rural telecom companies, including the importance of Chinese-made equipment to these businesses. Recently, Bennet discussed the latest developments with the Federal News Network. She said the biggest issue is that federal officials are barring rural telecoms from buying affordable Chinese equipment due to national security concerns, but aren’t providing companies with the funds needed to buy comparable equipment from other sources. Thankfully, she said a compromise may be in sight.

“In late December, the House passed legislation that would allocate a billion dollars to help these companies across the country have deployed this equipment and we’re just waiting for the Senate to also approve that. We’re hoping that the Senate and the House will resolve that and come up with the funding. Once the money is there, the carriers can start looking to replace the network and keep everything up and running.”

Carri Bennet

“In late December, the House passed legislation that would allocate a billion dollars to help these companies across the country have deployed this equipment and we’re just waiting for the Senate to also approve that,” Bennet said. “We’re hoping that the Senate and the House will resolve that and come up with the funding. Once the money is there, the carriers can start looking to replace the network and keep everything up and running.”

Currently, the FCC is focusing on companies that receive federal Universal Service Program subsidies, which often serve telecoms in rural areas. But Bennet said the FCC is looking at ways to bar all telecom companies from purchasing and using Chinese-made equipment.

“They’re trying to determine if they have authority to have it completely removed, regardless of whether you accept the universal service support as a subsidy,” Bennet said.

She added that this is a public safety issue, as rural telecom companies provide networks for emergency communication in remote, rural areas.

Click here to listen to Carri Bennet discuss restrictions on Chinese-made telecom equipment with the Federal News Network. 

Bennet also has discussed this topic with a number of other major media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, CNN, the National Journal and the Wall Street Journal

Carri Bennet has more than three decades of experience representing wireline, wireless and broadband communications providers, as well as commercial and noncommercial broadcasters, in regulatory compliance matters. She has a particular focus on advocating for small rural carriers, including serving as General Counsel to the Rural Wireless Association. Bennet represents telecom industry clients before the FCC, state regulatory agencies, the courts, and Congress.