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NTIA recommends revoking China Telecom’s common carrier status

The Trump administration is continuing with actions that cut telecom ties with China, including a new filing from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that recommends that the Federal Communications Commission revoke China Telecom’s ability to carry international voice traffic between the U.S. and other countries.

The NTIA said that its filing “represents agreement among the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State, Commerce, and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR)” that allowing China Telecom to carry that voice traffic poses a “substantial and unacceptable national security and law enforcement risk associated with China Telecom’s continued access to U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. In the current environment, the national security and law enforcement risks cannot be mitigated.”

China Telecom was authorized in 2007 to operate in the U.S. and it provides a suite of services that include voice, data television and business network services. It also operates a mobile virtual network operator, CTExcel, that targets Chinese Americans and Chinese tourists and students, according to the filing—but times and risks have changed, NTIA has concluded. It also said that 80% of the DoJ’s economic espionage cases where a foreign entity or government would benefit, have involved China.

In particular, the agencies cited increased concerns in recent years about electronic espionage by China, China Telecom’s status as a subsidiary of a state-owned company under the control of the Chinese government and the company’s “inaccurate statements to U.S. government authorities and U.S. customers regarding its cybersecurity practices, and its apparent failure to comply with U.S. federal and state cybersecurity and privacy laws.” China Telecom’s operations in the U.S., the agencies claimed, “provide opportunities for increased Chinese state-sponsored cyber activities, including economic espionage and the disruption and misrouting of U.S. communications traffic.”

Last year, the FCC denied China Mobile permission to interconnect with telecom networks in the United States in order to offer its own services. At the time, China Telecom and China Unicom both had interconnect deals similar to what China Mobile wanted, but the FCC said those two other arrangements should be reviewed, and now the executive branch has weighed in via NTIA.

In related news, the Department of Justice says it does not oppose Google’s application to operate a segment of the Pacific Light Cable Network System connecting the United States to Taiwan for the next six months, as long as it meets certain obligations around network security — and doesn’t connect to Hong Kong, which is a regional hub for commerce as well as data interconnections.

Google applied to the FCC for special temporary authority to operate the undersea cable system in early April, saying that it has “an immediate need to meet internal demand for capacity between the U.S. and Taiwan” and that without the STA, it would probably have to seek alternative capacity at “significantly higher prices.” The provisional agreement worked out with Google includes a commitment to “pursue diversification of interconnection points in Asia,” as well as to establish network facilities that deliver traffic “as close as practicable” to its ultimate destination — but not with a connection to Hong Kong. The terms of that agreement, DoJ added, “[reflect] the views of the Executive Branch that a direct cable connection between the United States and Hong Kong would pose an unacceptable risk to the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States.”

The STA expires on October 5 of this year.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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