RWA alerts the FCC to a rip-and-replace carrier that is $5 million over budget and only 15% completed

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Jacob Morris and Ayden Little prepare to climb to the top of a Pine Belt cellular tower as part of the rip-and-replace efforts.Credit...Charity Rachelle for The New York Times

THE NEW YORK TIMES article identified the financial problems a small Alabama carrier is facing in attempting to rip and replace Chinese equipment. Pictured above, Jacob Morris and Ayden Little prepare to climb to the top of a Pine Belt Communications cell tower as part of the rip-and-replace efforts. Photo credit: Charity Rachelle for The New York Times

The Rural Wireless Association (RWA) filed a May 9 New York Times article with the FCC yesterday on the plight of small carriers such as Alabama-based Pine Belt Communications as they wait for Congress to fully fund the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program.

RWA asked that the article, ‘Rip and Replace’: The Tech Cold War is Upending Wireless Carriers, authored by Cecilia Kang. be included in the record.

“Many rural carrier participants, including Pine Belt, as cited in the article, are struggling to continue to provide adequate service to their customers as they attempt to rip out their unsecure equipment and install new equipment with limited funding,” RWA said in their filing in docket WC Docket No.18-89.

RWA asked the Commission to “grant all Reimbursement Program participants the blanket six-month extension of the one-year completion deadline as affected companies work diligently to complete this effort with limited time.”

Kang reported that last month, Senator Deb Fischer, a Republican of Nebraska, introduced a bill to close the gap in rip-and-replace carrier funding.

“Passing it will be challenging, with similar legislation failing twice over the past year and fierce debate in Washington over government spending and the debt ceiling. But “we have to follow up,” Ms. Fischer said. “Some of these carriers could go out of business,” Kang reported.

In 2021, Pine Belt applied for $68 million in reimbursements from the FCC for the replacement effort. But last July, the agency said that it could only refund costs of up to $27 million. Pine Belt is about 15 percent into its transition away from Chinese equipment and is already $5 million over the F.C.C.’s budget, the article said in an interview with Pine Belt President John Nettles.