The Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program: Congress Cannot Leave America’s Rural Providers Behind

By Colin Andrews, Sr. Director of Government Affairs, TIA


TIA has long maintained that to have a quality network, trust must be built into it, all the way down to the component and sub-component levels. Trust cannot be added on or wrapped around a product or solution. This philosophy stems from years of expertise in maintaining the ICT industry’s de facto global quality standard, TL 9000, and the newly developed supply chain security standard, SCS 9001.

That is also why TIA has been a vocal advocate for the Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, commonly known as the “Rip and Replace” program, since its inception at the FCC in 2018. A lot has happened since the program was first introduced. A global pandemic increased our dependence on our networks for everyday work, school, and personal activities and a rise of state-sponsored cyberattacks in recent years (and weeks) has only crystallized the necessity of this program.

After years of comments before the FCC and the passage of multiple pieces of legislation establishing and funding the program, the Commission is now at a point where they can begin approving applications from service providers seeking financial assistance to remove equipment from ICT networks designated by law as posing a security threat.

Unfortunately, without Congress funding the full scope of this effort, the FCC’s program will be doomed to fail in its primary objective: the removal of “communications equipment or service that poses an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.”  

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel notified Congress that the Commission received a total of 181 applications from providers to be reimbursed for the removal of designated equipment that poses a national security threat.

Full reimbursement of these applications would cost the Commission $5.6 billion, a difference of 3.7 billion dollars from the $1.895 billion initially appropriated from Congress back in 2019. The program’s cost discrepancy remains a threat to the program’s primary objective, and Congress must act now to fully fund this program to ensure that all equipment which pose a potential threat to U.S. infrastructure is addressed as quickly as possible. If the additional funds are not appropriated, the Commission may be forced to pro-rate applicants for funding, disbursing around 30 cents on the dollar for costs of replacing the equipment.

This would leave America’s regional and rural service providers to cover most of the costs incurred to achieve the government’s and our nation’s objective. Facing this stark reality, many of the nation’s rural providers are now facing a situation where Congress says that they must remove certain equipment to serve the country’s national security interests, and, despite assurances to the contrary, must assume the majority of the financial burden associated with complying with the law.  In most situations, rural providers are not in a position to absorb these costs, which means an underfunded mandate would put their business – and the services that connect rural homes and businesses – in jeopardy.

At a time when a pandemic and rising geopolitical tensions have underscored the importance of reliable, resilient networks and as the Administration works to implement historic levels of broadband investments under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress cannot put our rural providers in a position where complying with the law results in the financial destruction of their business. The companies on the front lines of closing the digital divide only want to ensure they can sustain their businesses and do what the law has mandated – provide safe, trusted ICT services to rural America – and Congress must act now to ensure this critical national security program is a success.