Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Governance & Risk Management

Senators Urge FCC to Review Licenses for Chinese Telecoms

Concerns Raised About China Telecom and China Unicom
Senators Urge FCC to Review Licenses for Chinese Telecoms

U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., are asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider operating licenses granted to two Chinese telecommunications companies, citing concerns over national security and foreign espionage.

See Also: Close the Gapz in Your Security Strategy

In a Sept. 16 letter, Schumer and Cotton ask FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to review the 10-year licenses granted to China Telecom and China Unicom to operate wireless networks in the U.S.

The senators note that the FCC earlier this year denied an operating license to a third Chinese carrier, China Mobile USA, after questions were raised about whether it "was vulnerable to exploitation, influence and control by the Chinese government and that granting an authorization would pose national security and law enforcement risks that could not be addressed by a mitigation agreement."

Now, Schumer and Cotton want to know why more attention is not being paid to the two other carriers.

National Security Concerns

While the three companies are sometimes referred to as the "big three" of the Chinese telecommunications industry, China Mobile is by far the largest. When the FCC voted in May to deny China Mobile a license, Pai noted the close relationship between the company and the Chinese government, according to a Bloomberg news report.

At that time, Pai noted that his office was reviewing the authorization of the licenses granted to China Telecom and China Unicom. He did not, however, provide any specifics of what the FCC would investigate, according to Bloomberg.

Now Schumer, who is the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, and Cotton want to know more about whether the FCC is examining the licensing agreements that allow China Telecom and China Unicom to operate in the U.S. While not citing specifics, the two senators raise concerns about cyberespionage and other threats to national security as well as economic concerns.

"These state-owned companies continue to have access to our telephone lines, fiber-optic cables, cellular networks and satellites in ways that could give it the ability to target the content of communications of Americans or their businesses and the U.S. government, including through the 'hijacking' of telecommunications traffic by redirecting it through China,” the senators state in their letter.

Brian Hart, an FCC spokesman, told the New York Times that the commission was "reviewing other Chinese communications companies such as China Telecom and China Unicom,” but he didn’t commit to opening a formal proceeding to look at the licenses.

China Unicom and China Telecom deny they are threat to U.S. security or pose a cybersecurity risk.

A spokesperson for China Unicom tells Information Security Media Group that the company "operates its international telecommunications business strictly in compliance with the international and local laws and regulations, in providing services to global customers in various countries and regions in the world, including the United States."

A representative of the China Telecom told the Times: "We make the protection of our customers' data a priority and have built a solid reputation as one of the best telecom companies in the world."

Huawei Dispute Continues

Meanwhile, the dispute between the Trump administration and Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei continues. For over a year, the White House and its allies have lobbied other countries to not use Huawei's telecommunications gear for sensitive operations, including national 5G network rollouts (see: Huawei's Role in 5G Networks: A Matter of Trust ).

Without releasing any evidence, the White House has accused Huawei of being too susceptible to interference from China's government for its gear to be trustworthy, thus posing a security risk. Huawei has denied those charges and has accused the U.S. government of trying to upend its business (see: Huawei Accuses US Government of Hack Attacks).

About the Author

Apurva Venkat

Apurva Venkat

Special Correspondent

Venkat is special correspondent for Information Security Media Group's global news desk. She has previously worked at companies such as IDG and Business Standard where she reported on developments in technology, businesses, startups, fintech, e-commerce, cybersecurity, civic news and education.

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