Huawei systems made up less than 1% of Windstream’s network and provided services limited to Layer 1 transport. (Windstream)
By Linda HardestyMar 30, 2023 12:42pm

FCC funds cover all of Windstream’s costs to remove Huawei gear

Windstream, a privately held company that provides wired broadband, today said it has completed the removal of all Huawei equipment from its network. And it said the FCC’s rip-and-replace reimbursement program will cover all its costs.

Windstream’s network included Huawei gear acquired as part of its 2017 purchase of EarthLink. Huawei systems made up less than 1% of its network and provided services limited to Layer 1 transport.

In 2019 Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, mandating the removal of Huawei and ZTE equipment from American telecom networks. Congress allocated $1.9 billion to reimburse telecom operators for the cost of ripping and replacing the Chinese gear. However, the FCC received valid reimbursement requests totaling a whopping $4.98 billion. And Congress still has not acted to close the $3.08 billion funding gap. Because of the funding shortfall, the FCC has been paying companies a prorated percentage of 39.5% of their reimbursement costs.

However, Windstream seems to have done well, navigating the system to rip and replace its Huawei gear.

According to the Public Search feature on the FCC’s reimbursement filing portal, Windstream originally sought $118.3 million in reimbursement funds.

Art Nichols, chief technology officer at Windstream, said the company was allocated $47 million by the FCC for reimbursement, and the company does not anticipate that it will draw down that full amount based on actual costs.

“Windstream relied on FCC cost estimates in submitting its initial Supply Chain Reimbursement Program application, which were typically higher than the costs that Windstream experienced in practice,” said Nichols.

Windstream also began its rip-and-replace efforts early. As a federal contractor, it implemented a multi-year engineering plan to remove the Huawei equipment in its network in 2019, before the FCC made removal mandatory. In January 2020 it hired the vendors Ciena and Fujitsu to assist with the Huawei equipment removal.

“Because Windstream began the removal and replacement process early, it found that vendors and equipment were available and cost effective,” said Nichols.

In addition to its internal engineering team and Ciena and Fujitsu, Windstream also worked with Infinera and Cisco for its rip-and-replace project. Windstream also engaged vendors Palco and Nave for compliant equipment disposal in accordance with FCC guidelines.

Windstream is in the process of receiving reimbursement funds, relying on its own capital to make the network changes.

By fall 2022, all Huawei equipment had been disconnected from Windstream’s network and was no longer operative. The company removed the final inactive Huawei equipment from its network shelves this month.

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