DoJ: Google to operate undersea cable connecting U.S. and Asia

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it has approved Google’s request to use part of an undersea cable connecting the US and Asia via Taiwan. Google agreed to operate a portion of the 8,000-mile Pacific Light Cable Network System between the US and Taiwan, while avoiding the leg of the system extending to Hong Kong.

Google and Facebook helped pay for construction of the now completed undersea cable, along with a Chinese real estate investor. U.S. regulators had previously expressed national security concerns about the Chinese investor, Beijing-based Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group Co.

Google, Facebook and telecom and undersea infrastructure developer TE SubCom and PLDC (Pacific Light Data Communication Co. Ltd.) are teaming up to build a 120 Terabits per second (Tbps), 12,800 km subsea cable that will connect Los Angeles with Taiwan, but exclude Hong Kong.

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The DoJ granted a six-month authorization for using the cable after Google emphasized “an immediate need to meet internal demand for capacity between the US and Taiwan” and that without the requested temporary authority, it would likely have to seek alternative capacity at “significantly higher prices.”

After discussions with Google representatives, the DoJ concluded that the obligations undertaken by Google would be sufficient to preserve their abilities to enforce the law and protect national security. Under the terms of the security agreement, Google has agreed to a range of operational requirements, notice obligations, access and security guarantees, as well as auditing and reporting duties, among others.

Google also committed to pursuing “diversification of interconnection points in Asia,” as well as to establish network facilities that deliver traffic as close as practicable to its ultimate destination. This reflects the views of the US government that a direct cable connection between the US and Hong Kong “would pose an unacceptable risk to the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States”, the DoJ said.

More information concerning the license application and the US Justice Departments’ response is available here.

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The U.S. government decision to exclude Hong Kong from a trans-Pacific cable was “severe blow” to the city as a telecom hub, a key industry figure said Thursday.

The DOJ said “a direct connection between the U.S. and Hong Kong would pose an unacceptable risk” to national security and law enforcement interests.

Charles Mok, the IT industry representative in the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said the decision was “not a surprise.”

It had been public knowledge for at least six months that the FCC held such views about Hong Kong and was delaying approval of the cable.

More than a month ago, Facebook and Google had amended their applications, excluding Hong Kong and terminating the cable in Taiwan, Mok pointed out.

“It is a severe blow to Hong Kong’s status as a hub for telecommunications and underseas cable in the region,” he said.

“The obvious reasons – behind what the US claims to be concerns over their national interest – must be the widely perceived deterioration of Hong Kong’s One Country Two Systems, rule of law, freedom of information and the media, and the increasing interference from China.

References:

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-clears-google-s-application-federal-communications-commission-operate

https://www.lightreading.com/asia/us-decision-a-blow-to-hks-status-as-telecom-hub-says-legislator/d/d-id/758791?

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/08/google-gets-federal-ok-to-operate-subsea-cable-from-taiwan-to-us.html

http://licensing.fcc.gov/cgi-bin/ws.exe/prod/ib/forms/reports/related_filing.hts?f_key=2252704&f_number=SCLSTA2020040200015

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-allows-google-internet-project-to-advance-only-if-hong-kong-is-cut-out-11586377674 (on-line subscription required)

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