Team Telecom this week recommended the FCC deny the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) subsea cable system application for a connection between Hong Kong and the U.S. due to national security concerns. The Commission delegates the national security and law enforcement aspects of its “public interest” review to “Team Telecom,” an informal, multi-agency committee that includes the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security.
Subsea fiber optic cable systems form the backbone of global communications and carry most of the world’s internet, voice, and data traffic between continents. In recent years, subsea cable systems have become increasingly critical, connecting global data centers and expanding interconnections.
On April 8, the FCC granted Google’s request for Special Temporary Authority to commercially operate the segment of PLCN connecting the United States and Taiwan for six months, based on a provisional national security agreement between Google and the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense. As submitted to the FCC, the PLCN application would have allowed what the DOJ said would be the highest capacity subsea cable connection between the United States and Asia and the first direct connection between the United States and Hong Kong.
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, according to the experts. Team Telecom said it wasn’t in U.S. national security or law enforcement interests to approve subsea cables landing in China’s territory because the Chinese government previously demonstrated the intent to acquire U.S. persons’ data.
The recommendation also explained that PLCN’s proposed Hong Kong landing station would expose U.S. communications traffic to collection by the Chinese government. Such concerns have been heightened by the Chinese 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.
However, the agencies believe the Commission should grant the portion of PLCN’s application that seeks an undersea cable connection between the United States, Taiwan, and the Philippines, which do not have any Chinese government based ownership and are separately owned and controlled by subsidiaries of Google and Facebook.