Senators urge FCC to review US operations of Chinese telecom firms

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The China Telecom booth at the Connect 2016 conference in Shanghai on September 2, 2016. (Image credit: Bigstock)

Two United States senators on Monday asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and national security agencies to review whether two Chinese state-owned telecom operators should be barred from operating in the US, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The request shows that efforts to restrict Chinese telecom company operations in the US are expanding as the government highlights concerns about national security and Chinese espionage.

  • The FCC in May denied an application by China Mobile to provide telecom services in the US. Chairman Ajit Pai said that the Chinese government would use China Mobile to conduct activities seriously jeopardizing to US national security, law enforcement, and economic interests.
  • Citing national security concerns, the Trump administration in May banned Chinese telecom firm Huawei from buying US-made components and technology without special approval and effectively barred American carriers from using telecommunications equipment made by Huawei.

Details: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer along with Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican, asked the FCC chairman Pai in a letter to the commission to review approvals that allow China Telecom and China Unicom to operate in the US.

  • “These state-owned companies continue to have access to our telephone lines, fiber optic cables, cellular networks, and satellites in ways that could give [China] the ability to target the content of communications of Americans or their businesses and the U.S. government, including through the ‘hijacking’ of telecommunications traffic by redirecting it through China,” the senators wrote in the letter.
  • A China Telecom spokesman told Reuters that the company had been providing telecom services in the US for almost 20 years and it made the protection of customer data a priority.
  • Pai “has made it clear that the Commission is reviewing other Chinese communications companies such as China Telecom and China Unicom,” an FCC spokesman said.

Briefing: FCC votes unanimously to block China Mobile’s phone services bid

Context: China Telecom and Unicom have licenses that were granted by the FCC in the early 2000s, allowing them to operate in the US, but some regulators have said that they should be re-examined.

  • Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner, said in May that the agency should also look at the other two Chinese carriers after it denied China Mobile’s application.