House bill would pay rural telecoms to ditch China-tied tech seen as spying risk: ‘rip and replace’

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FIRST ON FOX – A bipartisan House coalition is moving to redirect COVID-19 relief money to beef up a program that helps telecom companies replace equipment made by Chinese Communist Party-affiliated companies. 

In 2020, Congress passed the bipartisan ‘Rip and Replace Program’ at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which reimburses smaller communications providers across the country for costs from removing, replacing and disposing of equipment manufactured by Huawei Technologies Company and ZTE Corporation – both of which present significant risks to U.S. national security due to their close connections to the Chinese government. 

There are roughly 24,000 pieces of Chinese-made communications equipment throughout U.S. telecom networks, and disposing them is critical to protecting the U.S. from spying and other threats. However, the Rip and Replace Program is currently facing a $3.08 billion shortfall and is only able to cover 40% of the expenses for eligible applicants – many of which operate in rural areas, putting those communities at risk for loss of service. The program has already received 126 applications beyond its budget.

On Monday, Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, as well Select Committee on the CCP Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and his Democratic counterpart, ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, introduced the Defend our Networks Act, which will identify the funding needed to close the budget shortfall in the FCC’s program and transfer $3.08 billion in unobligated emergency COVID-relief funds to ‘Rip and Replace.’ 

‘If communication flows through Huawei or ZTE equipment, it should be treated as if it is being downloaded back to a server in Beijing with a full access pass for the CCP regime,’ Hinson said. 

‘Chinese technology is embedded in communications networks across the United States, giving the Chinese Communist Party backdoor access to Americans’ personal information and sensitive data,’ she said.

‘The Defend our Networks Act will ensure compromised Chinese telecom equipment is replaced with secure systems so that Americans, especially those in rural areas, have reliable, secure, and private connectivity,’ she said. 

Krishnamoorthi said he is ‘proud to join my colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Defend Our Networks Act to safeguard our communications infrastructure from potential vulnerabilities to the Chinese Communist Party.’

‘Communications equipment produced by companies under the influence of the CCP pose a serious risk to our national security, and fully funding efforts to replace the vulnerable components with secure ones is a vital step forward in safeguarding our technological infrastructure,’ he added. 

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., who also co-authored the legislation, praised the ‘strong coalition of bipartisan partners’ moving the bill forward. 

‘This year, the Federal Communications Commission said they can only cover less than half of the costs to remove dangerous Chinese technology from American telecommunications networks. That is simply unacceptable,’ she said.

‘I am proud to co-lead the Defend Our Networks Act alongside a strong coalition of bipartisan partners. This bill would strengthen the FCC’s ability to safeguard our technology, ensuring that Americans can be confident, knowing that none of our telecommunications systems are vulnerable to attacks because they contain Chinese software,’ she added. 

Just a few months ago in July, Hinson demanded an audit of ‘potentially compromised’ government telecommunications equipment after hackers breached the e-mails of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and high-level State Department who were involved in planning the Biden administration’s trip to China.

‘If there is still telecommunications and video surveillance equipment produced by the PRC or PRC-linked entities in federal buildings it should be unplugged, ripped off the wall, and thrown where the sun doesn’t shine,’ she wrote in a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. 

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