US officials reject subsea connection to Hong Kong over security worries

After years of wrangling over the issue, a committee of top-level US government officials has officially moved against an underwater Internet connection between the US and Hong Kong.

In a release Wednesday, "Team Telecom" recommended the FCC deny an application to connect the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) subsea cable system between the US and Hong Kong.

FCC commissioners appear poised to accept the recommendation. "I'll reserve judgment for now, but the detailed filing raises major questions about state influence over Chinese telecoms. In this interconnected world, network security must be paramount," tweeted Democratic FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

Team Telecom – officially the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector – is an organization created by President Trump in April. It's chaired by Trump's attorney general and includes his secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense. As the Department of Justice explained, Team Telecom formalizes an advice and review process that has existed for years, but which will "benefit from a transparent and empowered structure."

Starks noted that Wednesday's recommendation is the team's first official action.

So why exactly is Team Telecom moving against the PLCN cable between the US and Hong Kong? National security concerns, of course. "The current national security environment, including the PRC [People's Republic of China] government's sustained efforts to acquire the sensitive personal data of millions of US persons, the PRC government's access to other countries' data through both digital infrastructure investments and recent PRC intelligence and cybersecurity laws, and changes in the market that have transformed subsea cable infrastructure into increasingly data-rich environments that are vulnerable to exploitation," Team Telecom wrote in a release.

Also: "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."

The committee's latest recommendation builds on a vast and growing push among US government officials against China and Chinese companies. That push stretches from a ban on US business with China's Huawei to a proposal to remove telecom facilities operated by Chinese companies from US soil. Click here for details on the PLCN.

Importantly, such developments won't necessarily prevent Internet traffic from traveling from the US to China, or vice versa. But it could make such communications slower and more expensive by requiring more "hops" through the world's Internet backbone.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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