FCC confirms action to ban China Unicom and units of CITIC Telecom
The US has taken the next, decisive step to prevent China Unicom and two companies owned by CITIC Telecom from operating in its territory.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched proceedings against both China Unicom Americas and CITIC’s Pacific Networks and ComNet that may lead to them being banned from providing international and domestic services in the US.
“The evidence compiled in our proceedings confirms that these companies are indirectly owned and controlled by the Chinese government,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC.
“As a result, there is strong reason to believe that they will have to comply with requests from the Chinese government and advance its goals and policies. Moreover, executive branch agencies have concluded that mitigation measures would not be able to address the significant national security and law enforcement concerns raised here.”
The move ends forever any lingering hopes that Joe Biden’s administration would take a softer line with Chinese telcos that Donald Trump’s.
The moves against China Unicom, Pacific Networks and ComNet began almost a year ago when Ajit Pai, Trump’s chairman of the FCC, told those three companies, in addition to China Telecom’s US operation, that they had to show within 30 days why their licences should not be revoked.
It has taken longer than that: but action has already started against China Telecom and now against the other three. The FCC denied China Mobile a licence early in the Trump administration.
The FCC said it had “determined that China Unicom Americas has failed at this stage to dispel serious concerns regarding its retention of section 214 authority in the United States”.
Section 214 is that part of the Communications Act under which foreign telcos need a licence to operate in the US.
The action “starts the process to determine whether the present and future public interest, convenience, and necessity warrant revocation of China Unicom Americas’ domestic section 214 authority and international section 214 authorizations”, said the FCC.
Rosenworcel said: “The actions we take today are consistent with our 2019 decision to deny China Mobile USA’s application for FCC authorisation. They are consistent with our 2020 decision to start a proceeding to revoke China Telecom Americas’ prior authorisation to provide service within the United States.”
She said the FCC’s international bureau will look back at previous international licences “and recommend options for addressing evolving national security risks”, and the FCC will work with other parts of the US government to review other section 214 authorisations.
Meanwhile the FCC will refer applications for subsea cable licences to the executive branch — in other words, the White House — for review.