Web cable in danger of devastating cut

Top News | Jane Cheung 30 Aug 2019

Citing national security concerns, United States officials are reportedly seeking to block an undersea internet cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong that is being backed by Google, Facebook and a mainland-based firm.

The US Department of Justice has signaled opposition to the project because of doubts about the Chinese investor - Beijing-based Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group Co - and the direct link the cable would provide to Hong Kong, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Much of the 12,875-kilometer Pacific Light Cable Network, which has cost investors many billions of dollars, has already been installed along the Pacific Ocean seabed and was expected to be in service by the end of this year.

But Team Telecom, a multi-agency review panel under the Department of Justice, is against granting a license to the project as it believes Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group - the fourth-largest telecommunications corporation in the mainland - has a close relationship with the Chinese government.

Despite the cable being connected to Hong Kong, the panel has pointed to the continuing political instability in the SAR and fears the cable could threaten US national security in some circumstances.

It is understood the panel has approved all previous Sino-US cable projects, so a rejection would be a first.

The Journal also cited sources as saying a rejection could translate to the United States taking a stronger stance against Chinese projects.

That, of course, would confirm Washington does not trust Beijing, so tensions would increase.

But the American side is not as yet giving anything away about its thinking on the cable project.

Marc Raimondi, a national security spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "The department does not comment on its ongoing assessment of applications that the Federal Communications Commission has referred for national security and law enforcement concerns arising out of foreign investment or control."

Subsea cables form the backbone of the internet by carrying 99 percent of data traffic.

According to the Dr Peng website, the Pacific Light Cable Network would have the world's greatest capacity.

It could provide a massive internet capacity at high speed and low cost to cater to the needs for telecoms, cloud services, big data and social networks.

And it would complement the existing China-Japan-United States networks across the Pacific Ocean and offer new routers for additional capacity for rising commercial needs from those countries, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said a block on the cable project would be a big blow.

"Nowadays we live in the era of the internet, we store data on the internet and use it for live streaming, video or even audio calls," he noted. "Cancellation of the cable may not affect citizens in general, but IT industries will suffer the most as all businesses - especially those dealing with cloud services, big data and artificial intelligence - rely heavily on internet capacity."

He said US officials may be looking to block the project after rumors about the Hong Kong government planning to cut Telegram or online forum Lihkg, which carry much protest-related material, from the local internet.

"If there's no free flow of information here they won't see the need to give us more internet capacity," he said. "Also, an additional cable would provide faster internet services, meaning Chinese hackers may take advantage of it and hack into US networks with high efficiency."


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