Congress is looking to hammer out its next COVID-19 relief bill in the coming weeks and it looks like it will be a contentious negotiation. As part of its opening salvo, Senate GOP leadership released their policy proposal on July 27.

Included in the proposed bill is $1 billion in funding to subsidize the Federal Communications Commisson’s (FCC) plan to rip out and replace China-based Huawei and ZTE gear from the U.S. telecom marketplace. The figure is half of what FCC Chair Ajit Pai requested for the project.

The $1 billion is earmarked for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, which will provide small telecommunications providers funds to offset the cost of removing prohibited equipment that poses national security risks to their networks and replacing it with more secure technology. The proposal noted that this provision “scores as mandatory funding, and is therefore not included in discretionary funding totals” in the Senate GOP’s initial proposal.

The mandate to rip and replace Huawei and ZTE technologies stems from legislation signed by President Trump in March of this year. Specifically, the bill barred FCC from subsidizing equipment or services from “untrusted suppliers,” created a program to reimburse telecommunications providers with fewer than two million customers to replace equipment that “poses a national security risk,” and established an information-sharing program for telecom providers to obtain information on potential security risks.

Introduced in the House in September 2019, the legislation aimed to mitigate fears of foreign interference with American 5G infrastructure. It was approved in the House in January and cleared the Senate in April.

In a move to further limit Huawei’s influence in the United States, the Trump administration is imposing visa restrictions on employees of certain Chinese technology companies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained in a July 15 statement, that the State Department is “imposing visa restrictions on certain employees of Chinese technology companies that provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights abuses globally.”

The United States isn’t the only country to ban Huawei and ZTE technologies. Earlier this month, France said it will phase Huawei out of its 5G networks by 2028. Only July 14, the United Kingdom said it will ban the use of equipment made by Huawei from 5G wireless networks in the country beginning in 2027.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.