Google and Facebook apply to route trans-Pacific data via Taiwan and Philippines amid China security concerns

Google and Facebook are seeking permission from America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to route data via undersea cables landing in Taiwan and the Philippines after attempts to activate links to Hong Kong and China faced security hurdles, according to a report in TechCrunch, February 7.

In 2016, the two tech giants announced development of a new fiber-optic undersea cable network that would be the first direct undersea cable to connect Hong Kong and the USA.

The 120 terabit-per-second Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), touted to help connect US businesses to the growing Internet community in Asia, and “providing additional transmission options in the event of disruptions to other systems, whether natural or man-made,” was due to begin operations in the middle of 2018.

However, the activation of the cable network faced regulatory hurdles that Tech Crunch reporter pinned on a “shadowy” US national telecommunications security unit called Team Telecom, consisting of representatives of the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice.

An info-graphic from a Google product news report in 2016 showing new direct cable links to Asia, and offshoots to Australia.

The security team flagged the PLCN plan as a potential security threat due to the fact that four of the six cables were owned by a company called Pacific Light Data Communication (PLDC). PLDC was originally based in Hong Kong and owned by a businessman named Wei Junkang, but in late 2017, Wei sold a majority stake to a Beijing-based outfit called Dr Peng Telecom and Media Group – a company known to be involved with Chinese government projects, including police surveillance operations.

Frustrated with financial losses associated with the delays, Google and Facebook filed a request for permission January 29, to forgo the PLDC links, and activate the cables actually owned by the American tech-pair, Facebook’s link to the Philippines, and Google’s link to Taiwan.

The request stated that the two links will operate independently of the PLDC-controlled portions of the networks. Activating the links  “would not authorize any commercial traffic on the PLCN system to or from Hong Kong, nor any operation of the PLCN system by Pacific Light Data Communication.”

“Under the requested STA, GU Holdings and Edge USA seek authority for commercial operation of only the fiber pairs, segments, and common equipment providing connectivity between the United States and Taiwan and the United States and Baler, Philippines. Fiber Pair 2 and Segment S2, which connects the United States and Taiwan, will be operated by GU Holdings and its affiliates separately from and independently of other portions of PLCN and independent of PLDC and its affiliates. Fiber Pair 1 and Segment S3, which will connect the United States with Baler, Philippines, will be operated separately from and independently of other portions of PLCN and independent of PLDC and its affiliates. Independent operation of these fiber pairs and segments is commercially and technically feasible, and consistent with the public interest. ” the request to the FCC stated.

Picture credit: Executive Yuan.

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