Google, Facebook to exclude Hong Kong sections of PLCN

Google, Facebook to exclude Hong Kong sections of PLCN

10 February 2020 | Natalie Bannerman

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Google and Facebook, through its subsidiaries GU Holdings and Edge Cable Holdings USA, are seeking permission to activate sections of the PLCN subsea cable.

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the two companies requested permission to activate the parts of the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) between the US and the Philippines and Taiwan, leaving the sections connecting to Hong Kong dark.

In the filing it read:

‘GU Holdings Inc. (GU Holdings) and Edge Cable Holdings USA, LLC (Edge USA) hereby request Special Temporary Authority (STA) to begin commercial operation of limited portions of the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) prior to the Commission’s grant of the pending application for a license to construct, land, and operate the entire PLCN system. ‘

Specifically, the filing sought permission for a seek 180-day STA to begin operating these portions of PLCN:

  • The fibre pair owned by GU Holdings and its affiliates and used to connect the United States and Branching Unit 1 in Toucheng, Taiwan.
  • The branch owned by GU Holdings’ affiliates connecting Taiwan to Branching Unit 1, including the two fibre pairs on that branch.
  • The fibre pair owned by Edge USA and its affiliates and used to connect the United States and Branching Unit 2 in Baler, Philippines.
  • The branch owned by Edge USA’s affiliates connecting Baler, Philippines, to Branching Unit 2, including the two fibre pairs on that branch.
  • And common equipment necessary to operate Fibre Pair 2 between the United States and Taiwan and Fibre Pair 1 between the United States and Baler, Philippines.

‘With this request, no party seeks authority to commence commercial operation of Segments S1.3, S1.4, S4, or S5, or Fibre Pairs 3 through 6 owned by Pacific Light Data Communications,’ the companies added.

The news follows a period of uncertainty for the 12,000+ subsea cable project. Due to go live this quarter, the system was originally under the control of Wei Junkang, a Hong Kong entrepreneur but when he sold most of his stake in the cable in 2017 to Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group, a private broadband provider based in Beijing, it raised concerns for lawmakers in the US.

Though not a state-owned or controlled company, Dr Peng Telecom is said to work closely with Huawei, which has been banned in the US on the grounds of security. Additionally, Dr Peng is also said to have worked on projects for the Chinese government, including a surveillance network for the Beijing police.  

As a result, PLCN has been in a somewhat suspended state until Team Telecom, the US national security unit tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, decides on whether data on the practically completed system, can start to be transmitted.  

In 2018, Google wrote the FCC saying: “[any further holdup] would impose significant economic costs. Depending on the length of the delay, the financial viability of the project could be at risk.”

Speaking to Smart Hosting Plans, Nicole Starosielski, a professor at New York University and author of The Undersea Network, said: “I think stripping out the controversial [Hong Kong] link will work. But whenever one of these projects either gets thwarted, it sends a very strong message. If even Google and Facebook can’t get a cable through, there aren’t going to be a ton of other companies advancing new cable systems between the US and China now.”