WASHINGTON — North-central Iowa Congresswoman Ashley Hinson is co-sponsoring a bill that would shift unused COVID-19 funds to help replace Chinese-made communications equipment installed in the US.

“Last year, U.S. officials confirmed Huawei equipment can intercept not only commercial cell traffic, but also the highly restricted airwaves used by the U.S. military,” Hinson says. “Chinese-made equipment in our networks is an individual privacy, cybersecurity and national security disaster.”

Hinson, a Republican from Marion whose district includes district includes Cerro Gordo, Worth, Mitchell, Floyd and Butler counties in our listening area, is among a bipartisan group in the House co-sponsoring a bill called the Defend Our Networks Act. A similar bill in the U.S. Senate has bipartisan backing.

The Biden Administration has prohibited the purchase of communications equipment from Huawei and ZTE, businesses that have close ties to the Chinese government. The Federal Communications Commission has banned US based networks from using the equipment. “They also ordered telecom carriers to tear out equipment made by Huawei and ZTE,” Hinson says. “However, it’s estimated there are still about 24,000 pieces of this Chinese-made equipment embedded in our U.S. networks.”

The FCC’s “rip and replace” fund — created in 2020 — reimburses small providers of cell or internet service that replace that Chinese equipment, but it still has about $3 billion in eligible applications that haven’t been fulfilled.  “That shortfall means that carriers will have to continuing compromised equipment or rip and not replace, leaving Americans without communications service and this would disproportionately impact rural areas, where many communities have only one carrier,” Hinson says. “That could lead to a total service loss for Americans in some place.”

Hinson says it’s critical to quickly replace Chinese-made products with secure tel-com equipment and ensure Americans have private and secure connectivity.