FCC Warned Against Approving US/Hong Kong Subsea Cable

America's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been warned against fully approving the construction of a subsea cable that will directly link the United States to Hong Kong.

A recommendation to partially deny the application to build the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) was sent to the FCC by Team Telecom, formally known as the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector.

The committee said the PLCN application raised national security concerns as significant financial backing for the project would be provided by a subsidiary of the fourth largest provider of telecommunications services in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

"As submitted to the FCC, the PLCN application would have allowed for the highest capacity subsea cable connection between the United States and Asia and been the first direct connection between the United States and Hong Kong," said a spokesperson for the US Department of Justice. 

"This raised national security concerns, because a significant investor in the PLCN is Pacific Light Data Co. Ltd., a Hong Kong company and subsidiary of Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group Co. Ltd. (Dr. Peng Group), the fourth largest provider of telecommunications services in the PRC."

The committee’s recommendation explained that PLCN’s proposed Hong Kong landing station would expose US communications traffic to collection by the PRC. 

The DOJ said: "Such concerns have been heightened by the PRC government’s recent actions to remove Hong Kong’s autonomy and allow for the possibility that PRC intelligence and security services will operate openly in Hong Kong."

Team Telecom further advised that the FCC grant the portions of PLCN’s application seeking to connect the United States, Taiwan, and the Philippines, that do not have any PRC-based ownership and are separately owned and controlled by subsidiaries of Google LLC and Facebook, Inc. 

This approval should only be made on the condition that the companies’ subsidiaries enter into mitigation agreements regarding those connections, advised Team Telecom. 

Google's request for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to commercially operate the segment of PLCN connecting the United States and Taiwan for six months was granted by the FCC on April 8, 2020. Approval was given based on obligations set forth in a Provisional National Security Agreement between the tech giant and the US Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense. 

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