FCC Commissioner Urges for Latest Scrutiny of Undersea Data Cables

On Wednesday, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission asked for new scrutiny of undersea cables that transmit about the entire world’s internet data traffic.

Potential Threat for Espionage

“We must take a closer look at cables with landing locations in adversary countries,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on Wednesday at a commission meeting. “This includes the four existing submarine cables connecting the US and China, most of which are partially owned by Chinese state-owned companies.”

The United States has continuously stated concerns about China’s role in managing network traffic and the potential for espionage. Approximately 300 subsea cables form the backbone of the internet, handling 99% of the world’s data traffic.

Starks said the FCC “must ensure that adversary countries and other hostile actors can’t tamper with, block, or intercept the communications they carry.”

In April, the FCC authorized Alphabet Inc unit Google’s request to utilize part of a U.S.-Asia undersea telecommunications cable. However,  Hong Kong was not authorized because U.S. agencies escalated concerns regarding national security.

Google complied to operate a portion of the 8,000-mile Pacific Light Cable Network System lying between the United States and Taiwan; however, not Hong Kong. Google and Facebook provided support in payment of construction of the completed link; however, U.S. regulators restricted its use.

Facebook’s Desires

In August, the companies abandoned the proposal to utilize the Hong Kong portion. A Facebook affiliate has desired FCC approval to utilize a part of the cable. The desired part connects the Philippines and the United States.

Starks pointed out that on September 10, Facebook, Amazon.com Inc, and China Mobile withdrew their application to link San Francisco and Hong Kong as part of the Bay to Bay Express Cable System.

The companies said to the FCC they would work to get a license “for a reconfigured system” adequate to the Trump administration.

In April, the FCC rejected China Mobile’s application to operate in the United States. “The concerns aren’t just about the landing sites of the cables but who owns and operates them,” Starks added.

The FCC stated in April it might shut down U.S. operations of three state-controlled Chinese telecommunications companies; China Telecom Americas, China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks Corp, and its wholly-owned subsidiary ComNet (USA) LLC.  FCC Chairman Ajit Pai refused to say Wednesday when the commission may take action.