FCC bans China Telecom from operating in the U.S.

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted an order preventing China Telecom (Americas) Corporation from providing domestic interstate and international telecommunications services within the country.  

The decision means that China Telecom – which had approximately 351 million mobile and fixed line subscribers globally in 2020 – must now discontinue services in America within 60 days following the release of the order, which was undertaken, according to the FCC, to ‘safeguard the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure from potential security threats.’  

Based in part on the recommendation of the Executive Branch agencies, the commission said that it found that China Telecom ‘failed to rebut the serious concerns of the Executive Branch about its continued presence in the United States.’ The order was also said to find that China Telecom is ‘subject to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government and is highly likely to be forced to comply with Chinese government requests without sufficient legal procedures subject to independent judicial oversight.’  

In a statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman at the FCC said: ‘Our record makes clear that China Telecom operates as a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned enterprise and as such the Chinese government has the ability to influence and control its actions.  That could lead to real problems with our telecommunications networks through surveilling information, misrouting traffic, or disrupting service.  Moreover, the record reflects that China Telecom has not been forthright in its representations to the FCC and other agencies.  As a result, mitigation measures are not adequate to address our concerns and revocation of existing authorisations is justified.’

Rosenworcel went on to say that the commission will now focus on the U.S. operations of other state-controlled Chinese telecommunications companies, and begin to take a closer look at applications for submarine cables to make sure they do not raise national security concerns. She said: ‘Now that we have completed our review of China Telecom, we are moving expeditiously to complete our security reviews for similarly situated carriers like China Unicom Americas, Pacific Networks, and ComNet.’ 

Speaking to Reuters, a China Telecoms America spokesperson called the decision ‘disappointing,’ and said: ‘We plan to pursue all available options while continuing to serve our customers.’

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