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Huawei users in rural US fret gear ban

By MAY ZHOU in Houston and ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-02-14 23:46

Pedestrians walks past a store of Huawei in Shenyang city, Northeast China's Liaoning province, 8 February 2019. [Photo/IC]

As the White House weighs banning the use of Chinese telecommunications gear over perceived national security threats, rural US carriers, many of whom have built their networks on Chinese gear, have been quietly lobbying against such a ban, according to a published report.

“We’ve obviously been in touch with the administration to make sure they understand whatever they do in that [draft order] doesn’t have the unintended consequence of hurting rural America,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, a trade group of smaller carriers, as saying on Tuesday. The order may not identify specific companies.

While the draft order would likely not identify companies by name, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned Hungary, Slovakia and Poland against using Huawei equipment during a trip this week, saying it would make it more difficult for Washington to “partner alongside them”.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday criticized the United States and its allies, saying it was suppressing and slandering Chinese companies over national security concerns without providing any evidence.

Jim Kail, president and CEO at LHTC Broadband in Pennsylvania, said the company made a decision to use some Huawei equipment in 2014 to help provide broadband TV and internet to about 2,000 customers.

“At the time, we made the decision because it made good business sense. We are getting the most economical solution to get the most bang for our buck,” Kail told China Daily on Wednesday.

Kail said his company did due diligence on Huawei equipment, found no security risks involved, and made the decision to go with the Shenzhen-based telecom giant.

LHTC Broadband, headquartered in Stahlstown, provides local phone, long distance, internet and cable television services to customers across 200 square miles in Pennsylvania.

“We provide TV and internet services primarily to rural residential areas. I just don’t see what they (Huawei) can do if they had bad intentions,” Kail said.

It took the company 4 1/2 years to deploy 90 percent of Huawei equipment in one area. If the Federal Communications Commission cuts universal funding to companies using Huawei, or the government bans use of Huawei gear, it will have a major negative impact financially, he said.

“It seems like a political situation here,” Kail said. “If there is really a security risk, I would not sell my country down the river for a buck. Most electronics are being made in China. You just stamp a different brand name on the outside that’s not a Chinese name, doesn’t change anything.”

“I hope the situation will pass, and we can continue to do business with Huawei. Their products are of high quality and very competitively priced,” he said.

The federal government and analysts estimate Chinese hardware makes up less than 1 percent of US telecom networks, according to the Journal report.

James Groft, chief executive of James Valley Telecommunications, said replacing Huawei equipment in his small South Dakota network would cost about $10 million and tie up many of his 50 employees.

“I’ve never seen anything publicly that Huawei has done anything wrong,” the Journal quoted Groft as saying. “I would feel better about this if they [the federal government] had assurances there is something credible, and not fearmongering.”

Jon Taylor, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, said that while it would be a substantial loss to Chinese telecoms if the ban were implemented, China is still positioned as a leading provider of 5G telecom development.

“As for US carriers, it means higher operation and consumer costs with a ban on Chinese equipment,” he said.

Contact the writers at huanxinzhao@chinadailyusa.com.

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