The big picture: After years of pondering about the issue, US government officials have recommended the installation of an undersea Internet cable between the US and Hong Kong be stopped before it even starts. The main concern is that China could tap into the resulting hub to aid its espionage efforts, which has the FCC carefully examining the project application.
The average Internet user is likely unaware of the vast infrastructure that makes up the Internet and how it relies on more than 400 undersea cables to connect you to the rest of the world. But when private companies team up to build one that connects to China, things start heating up.
Back in 2016, Facebook entered a partnership with Google, China Soft Power Technology subsidiary Pacific Light Data Communication Co., and TE SubCo to link Los Angeles and Hong Kong with a cable that would stretch for 12,800 km (nearly 8,000 miles). Designed to have an estimated capacity of 120 Tbps, this would become the fastest Trans-Pacific highway for Internet communications.
Last year, the rumor mill was abuzz with indications that the US government could soon block the project on grounds of national security interests. More recently, that has become the official standpoint of a panel of top level US government officials called the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the US Telecommunications Services Sector, also known as Team Telecom.
The DOJ says the undersea cable is a risky proposition that offers the Chinese government an excellent opportunity to conduct more espionage, since the likelihood of US Internet data passing through the new hub even if China isn't the final destination would be relatively high.
In the filing sent to the FCC, Team Telecom argues that it's against US national security interests to approve the construction of cables that "land directly in Chinese territory, where the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has demonstrated the intent to acquire the US person’s data to harm US national security."
That said, the Taiwan component of the new cable has been approved for deployment under a temporary, six-month agreement with Facebook and Google, who had to pause the Hong Kong component for the time being.
Masthead credit: Michael Dziedzic