US farmers have already borne the brunt of the Trump administration’s trade war with China, and their plight is set to get even worse thanks to a dramatic escalation in the conflict.
Rural areas of the United States, home to much of President Donald Trump’s political base, are dependent on Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei, the company that is now facing a ban on doing business in the US.
The White House announced the ban this month, before adding a 90-day grace period to allow companies to adjust to the decision.
But the three-month reprieve offers little consolation for rural carriers that have constructed cellphone service infrastructure primarily with Huawei components. Refitting the systems, which are already insufficient to provide adequate service for many customers, would take years and cost as much as a billion dollars.
That is according to the Rural Wireless Association, a group that says newly proposed bipartisan legislation to fund such a retrofitting will also provide insufficient relief.
“We estimated that we needed $800 million to $1 billion for our carriers, but that only covers about a dozen companies,” general counsel for the group, Carrie Bennet, said in an interview with NBC News.
The legislation would provide only $700 million.
There are no US-based companies that make the needed telecommunications equipment, and the few European alternatives are significantly more expensive. One rural service provider, SI Wireless, said it would cost $40 million to $60 million to switch out the Huawei gear.
The legislation represents the second large bailout for rural areas of the US facing pressure from the Trump administration’s battle with Beijing. Trump has issued a total of $28 billion in aid for farmers, including $16 billion announced last week.