Nebraska cell towers contain equipment from Chinese company accused of spying

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - President Donald Trump recently banned a specific Chinese telecommunications and cellphone company from doing business in the U.S.

The business has been raising flags for a while and has left its fingerprints all over Nebraska.

The flat and fertile ground of the Great Plains is home to major firepower for our nation's defense.

Scattered across the countryside and buried deep underground are hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles waiting for instructions.

"One of the things a lot of people don't know is there are more missiles and bombs stored in the third congressional district than there are in the first congressional district, where Offutt is," Crystal Rhoades with the Nebraska Public Service Commission said.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is banned from bidding on U.S. government contracts in the name of national security, yet many rural cellphone carriers use the company's cheaper-priced equipment in cell towers.

"Some of these towers are located in places that potentially could cause a problem," Rhoades said.

One such tower is located in Humboldt, Nebraska - just an hour-and-a-half drive south of the metro.

The tower is one of 18 Viaero towers in the state that has the equipment in questions. Most of the others are in central and western Nebraska.

The problem? Those towers are near missile silos in Western Nebraska.

Security experts worry that since Huawei was founded by a former Chinese military officer, it could face pressure to spy on Nebraska's military installations.

As the government body considers new tower construction from Viaero, plans to place any Huawei equipment on its 18 cell towers in Nebraska are also underway.

"We have to identify which equipment is vulnerable and we've got to rip it out and replace it," Rhoades said.

Viaero representatives told 6 News that it doesn't believe its Chinese equipment is at risk for spying but understands there's a perception problem and is willing to do what's necessary to fix it.

The Public Service Commission has indicated to 6 News that it's willing to help with the cost of replacing Chinese equipment in Nebraska's vulnerable cell towers.

"We're not going to do business with a company busted for putting spyware at the American Telecommunications Network, period," Rhoades said.

For its part, Huawei is suing the U.S. government, insisting it has never and would never provide information to the Chinese government.

It's a risk many in government are unwilling to take.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base said that "As a part of our force posture, we maintain a constant awareness of activities within proximity of our installations and sites."