Congress Leaves Out “Rip & Replace” Funding from Spending Bill

Top congressional negotiators on Thursday unveiled the $1.2 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September, though it remained unclear whether legislators would be able to complete action on it in time to avert a brief partial government shutdown over the weekend. So far, money to fully fund the FCC’s Rip & Replace program is not included.

Lawmakers are racing to pass the legislation before a Friday midnight deadline in order to prevent a lapse in funds for over half the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and health agencies. They are already six months behind schedule because of lengthy negotiations to resolve funding and policy disputes, reports The New York Times.  

Now that they have agreed on a final package, which wraps six spending bills together, passage could slip past 12:01 on Saturday morning because of arcane procedural rules, according to CNN. House Republican leaders were signaling that they intended to hold a vote on the bill on Friday, bypassing a self-imposed rule requiring that lawmakers be given at least 72 hours to review legislation before it comes up for a vote. There could be additional hurdles in the Senate, where any one lawmaker’s objection to speedy passage of legislation could prolong debate and delay a final vote.

Concerning the lack of funding for Rip & Replace, Competitive Carriers Association President/CEO Tim Donovan stated: “This month marks four years since the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act was signed into law, but the ‘Rip and Replace’ program cannot succeed without desperately needed funding. That funding can only come from Congress.”

Rip & Replace is more than $3 billion short of what’s needed to reimburse small, rural telecoms for the removal, disposal and replacement of untrusted Chinese-owned Huawei and ZTE gear from their communications networks, Inside Towers reported. 

Donovan explained, “The lack of inclusion in the appropriations package released today will lead to reduced wireless coverage in the United States. As program participants reach or surpass their prorated funding allocation, carriers are deciding now on where they will have to reduce or even eliminate wireless service for both their own subscribers and the tens of millions of Americans who roam onto their networks for connectivity. This will be especially harmful for those trying to call 911 and receive emergency services.”

He notes there’s broad bipartisan and bicameral support to fund the program, but emphasizes “each day that passes without action has real world impacts. Congress created this national security mandate, and it is past time for Congress to fund it.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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