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Team Telecom to FCC: Nix Cable Connection to China

Team Telecom, the government entity that vets foreign participation in U.S. communications networks for possible national security issues, has signaled it is serious about wanting the FCC to refuse requests for direct subset cable connections between the U.S. and China. 

It has recommended that the FCC deny Pacific Light Cable Network's application (PCLN) for what would be the first such connection between the U.S. and Hong Kong. There are other similar applications that Team Telecom has suggested raise similar issues. 

Related: Senate Says FCC Needs Foreign Telecom Review Standards 

But it did say the FCC could approve PCLN connections between the U.S. and Taiwan and the U.S. and the Philippines, which sections of the PCLN network would be operated by subsidiaries of Google and Facebook, respectively. 

The Justice Department back in April signaled that it would not oppose the request by Google, through its GU Holdings, based on a Provisional National Security Agreement that includes notice obligations, security guarantees and reporting duties, among others. Google has committed to diversify interconnection points in Asia and deliver traffic as close to its ultimate destination "as is practicable."  

Team Telecom said the PCLN direct connection to Hong Kong raised national security concerns given PCLN's relationship with the Chinese government's intelligence and security services, given that subsea fiber optic cables are the "backbone" of global delivery of internet, voice and data, and given that "PLCN’s high capacity and low latency would encourage U.S. communications traffic crossing the Pacific to detour through Hong Kong before reaching intended destinations in other parts of the Asia Pacific region." 

It said it was not in the U.S.'s security interest to approve cable landing in China when the government has demonstrated the intent to acquire personal data from U.S. persons. 

The Team Telecom review committee comprises members from the Department of Justice’s National Security Division's Foreign Investment Review Section, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. 

Back in April, Team Telecom recommended that the FCC revoke China Telecom's authorizations to provide telecom service in the U.S. based on similar national security concerns. The FCC denied the authorization last month.