Wednesday, 05 May 2021

Facebook and Google to leave Chinese portions of its subsea network dormant to appease US

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Friday 07 February 20

The US–China feud is taking its toll on the submarine cable industry

With the Huawei situation soaking up most of the limelight in recent months, it is easy to forget that the China–US trade war has had serious ramifications for every facet of the telecoms world, including the subsea cable industry.   In 2017, Facebook and Google were some of the lead participants in the plan to create the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN)…

With the Huawei situation soaking up most of the limelight in recent months, it is easy to forget that the China–US trade war has had serious ramifications for every facet of the telecoms world, including the subsea cable industry.
 
In 2017, Facebook and Google were some of the lead participants in the plan to create the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), the first subsea route that would link Hong Kong directly with the US. However, the onset of the trade war has seen the cable’s commercial launch – initially planned for 2018 – embroiled in the stranglehold of US bureaucracy.
 
Four of the six pairs of fibre optic cables belong to Pacific Light Data Communication (PLDC), the majority of which was sold to Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group in 2017. This is where the stumbling block arises for US regulators: while not state-owned, the Beijing-based Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group does have connections with the Chinese government and Huawei. 
 
Team Telecom, a government agency made up of a conglomeration of government departments, has been weighing the perceived risk of this company ever since.
 
“Normally there wouldn’t be so much fuss over a cable to China,” saids Nicole Starosielski, a professor at New York University and author of The Undersea Network. “We’ve had cables to China for a long time and all of these networks interconnect, so even if they don’t land directly in China, they’re only a hop away. It is just one of those moments where it is more difficult to land a cable, no matter who the Chinese partner is, because of the political situation.”
 
As of last year, after being granted special permission to lay the cable in US waters, the network is almost finished but the data cannot start flowing unless the government gives the go ahead, accruing significant costs for Google and Facebook. 
 
As a result, the two have last week approached the FCC seeking to activate only the sections of the route that link they own – from the US to Taiwan and the Philippines – leaving PLDC's Hong Kong and Chinese sections dormant. 
 
“For clarity, the [request] would not authorize any commercial traffic on the PLCN system to or from Hong Kong, nor any operation of the PLCN system by PLDC,” read their application.
 
By highlighting the independence of these network sections from any form of Chinese influence, Google and Facebook are hopeful they will achieve the green light to get their stretch of the PLCN up and running.
 
 
To learn all the latest from the leading voices of the submarine cable industry, visit Submarine Networks EMEA 2020
 
 
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