FCC votes to halt China Telecom operations within U.S.

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FCC commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to nix the agency’s domestic and global authorizations for China Telecom Americas — moves that will curb the company's ability to operate within the U.S.

The decision carries through on the scrutiny begun last year into the Chinese government-owned company.

Agency staff said the company, a subsidiary of China Telecom, poses a national security risk to the U.S. and is both subject to exploitation by the Chinese government and highly likely to comply with Beijing's requests, which could mean forking over customer data. The subsidiary, which provides phone and IT service, has operated within the U.S. for years and is headquartered domestically in Herndon, Va.

What the commissioners said: Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC's acting chair and likely soon to be its permanent chief, pointed to other federal efforts to take a harder line against threats to U.S. telecom networks. She said China Telecom Americas could surveil networks and disrupt service.

“We take an important and necessary step,” Rosenworcel said during the open meeting following the vote. “This is not a decision we make lightly.”

She accused the company of making misrepresentations before the U.S. government. Commissioners cited evidence provided by executive branch agencies when justifying their vote to oust the company.

GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr said he’s pleased with the vote but called for further moves to curb foreign threats, such as using the agency’s equipment authorization rules to lessen telecom risks and expanding its list of dangerous companies. He noted his call to add drone-maker DJI to the agency’s list of national security threats.

How we got here: Tuesday’s vote follows through on FCC actions begun last year during the Trump era. The commission had requested information from the company last year and in December voted to begin proceedings on whether to yank its U.S. authorizations.

China Telecom Americas had unsuccessfully challenged that initial vote in court. A spokesperson for the company’s U.S. subsidiary didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

What’s next: The FCC is in the middle of examining whether to similarly yank the authorizations for multiple other companies with ties to China’s government. Rosenworcel said the example of China Telecom Americas sets a template the agency can follow with other providers, as needed.

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