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Friday, December 17, 2021

Team Telecom Recommends FCC Grant Google and Meta Licenses for Undersea Cable

National Security Agreements Will Protect U.S. Person Data and Diversify U.S.-Asia-Pacific Network Connections

Today, the Department of Justice announced that Team Telecom entered into National Security Agreements with Google LLC and its subsidiary GU Holdings Inc., and Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly known as Facebook Inc.) and its subsidiary Edge Cable Holdings USA LLC to protect data on the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) system, an undersea fiber optic cable system that will connect the United States, Taiwan and the Philippines. 

The agreements were made with the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Defense (DOD), and Homeland Security (DHS) in their roles as members of the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the U.S. Telecommunications and Services Sector (known informally as Team Telecom), and were coordinated with committee advisors listed in section 3(d) of Executive Order 13913 (2020). The Executive Branch has recommended that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) condition any license to operate the PLCN system on compliance with the National Security Agreements.

“These agreements enable Google and Meta to take advantage of critical, additional cable capacity while protecting U.S. persons’ privacy and security through terms that reflect the current threat environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, who leads Team Telecom’s work for the Justice Department. “This resolution also demonstrates Team Telecom’s ability to resolve complex cases involving critical infrastructure in a timely matter, thanks to recent reforms of our structure and process.”

Under the National Security Agreements, Google and Meta (and their subsidiaries) have agreed to (among other terms):

  • Conduct annual assessments of risk to sensitive data that transits the PLCN cable system, including when the data exits the cable;
  • Pursue diversification of interconnection points in Asia, including but not limited to Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam; and
  • Restrict access to information and infrastructure by Pacific Light Data Communications Co. Ltd (PLDC), the Hong Kong-based owner of PLCN that withdrew its application for an FCC license.

In June 2020, the committee publicly recommended that the FCC partially deny a previous application for PLCN with respect to PLCN’s proposed connections to Hong Kong and to the portions of the PLCN owned by PLDC. Shortly after that recommendation, the applicants withdrew the original PLCN application. Google’s and Meta’s subsidiaries then filed a new FCC application removing Hong Kong and seeking to operate only the United States, Taiwan and Philippines portions of PLCN. 

The National Security Agreements are justified by the current national security environment, including:

  • the PRC government’s sustained efforts to acquire the sensitive personal data of millions of U.S. persons;
  • the PRC government’s access to other countries’ data through both digital infrastructure investments and recent PRC intelligence and cybersecurity laws; and
  • changes in the market that have transformed subsea cable infrastructure into increasingly data-rich environments that are vulnerable to exploitation.

Through appropriate mitigation agreements like these, the committee seeks to protect the national security interests of the United States while preserving global access to U.S. information and communications technology systems. 

The committee was established pursuant to Executive Order 13913, and the Attorney General’s role as Chair of the Committee is carried out by the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Foreign Investment Review Section. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense are fellow members of the committee. More information concerning the agreements is available on the FCC’s International Bureau Filing System (IBFS), under Docket Number SCL-LIC-20200827-00038.

Topic(s): 
Cyber Crime
National Security
Press Release Number: 
21-1267
Updated January 6, 2022