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Google and Facebook abandon Hong Kong landing of new submarine cable

There be dragons, say US authorities, so first planned US-HK cable darkens its last leg

Google and Facebook have dumped plans to build an undersea cable between the US and Hong Kong after US security agencies warned that Beijing could use the link to infiltrate American networks.

In a revised proposal [PDF] submitted to the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) late last week, the consortium building the Pacific Light Cable Network re-filed its plans and kept landing points in Taiwan and the Philippines, but conspicuously left out the Hong Kong arm of its planned cable.

Google and Facebook have each funded the project, with Pacific Light Data Communications (PLDR), a Hong Kong-based company, set to own four of the project's six fibre-optic pairs

Google, Facebook, and PDLR originally proposed the project, called the Pacific Light Cable Network, in 2017. The cable, which was originally slated to run 13,900km from the US west coast to Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, was touted as the first submarine cable directly connecting Hong Kong and the USA.

At the time, PLDC was owned by Wei Junkang, a Chinese steel and real estate magnate. But in December 2017, the company was sold on to Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group, a private broadband provider based in Beijing.

The sale worried US security agencies, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal. Dr Peng works closely with Huawei, which is on the Trump administration's naughty list, as well as on various state projects, including a surveillance network for the Beijing police.

After months of deliberations, US agencies recommended in July that the FCC approve the Taiwan and Philippine sections of the project, but not the Hong Kong section. They also asked Google and Facebook to enter a national security agreement with the Trump Administration.

Today's refiling shows Google and Facebook following those recommendations. The filing only seeks the FCC to approve the Philippine and Taiwan section of the project.

Although the filing confirms that the The Hong Kong section of the cable is currently built, the companies "are not seeking authority" to operate the section.

“We can confirm that the original application for the PLCN cable system has been withdrawn, and a revised application for the US-Taiwan and US-Philippines portions of the system has been submitted," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "We continue to work through established channels to obtain cable landing licenses for our undersea cables.”

Facebook declined to comment.

Google separately won in April approval to operate the Taiwan section of the project for six months.

The change in plans for the cable looks to be a win for America's Clean Network plan, which aims to "ensure that People’s Republic of China (PRC) carriers are not connected with U.S. telecommunications networks. Such companies pose a danger to U.S. national security and should not provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States." ®

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