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Lawmakers Ask Telecom Agency to Bar Two Mainland Chinese Firms from Operating in the U.S.

Senators Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) and Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas) recently sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission asking that the FCC consider barring China Telecom and China Unicom from operating in the United States. The two senators copied the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Defense on the letter and cited national security concerns in asking the FCC to review the companies’ U.S. licences.

The lawmakers argued in their letter that “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 (China) 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.”

Another state-owned mainland Chinese telecom company, China Mobile Ltd., had sought FCC approval in 2011 to provide interconnection services for phone calls between the United States and other countries, which would have given it enhanced access to U.S. telephone lines, fibre-optic cable, cellular networks and communications satellites. In May, the FCC voted unanimously (5-0) to deny the application, citing risks that the mainland Chinese government could use the access to conduct espionage. FCC spokesman Brian Hart said at the time that FCC Chairman Pai “has made it clear that the Commission is reviewing other Chinese communications companies such as China Telecom and China Unicom.”

While Huawei and ZTE have previously been subject to U.S. government actions, other mainland Chinese telecom firms will apparently receive U.S. government attention as well.

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