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Google and Facebook seem to have resigned themselves to losing part of the longest and highest sketch internet cable they have invested in to date. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission last week, the two companies requested permission to activate the Pacific Light Cable Network( PLCN) between the US and the Philippines and Taiwan, leaving its contentious Hong Kong and Chinese segments dormant.

Globally, around 380 submarine cables carry over 99.5 percent of all transoceanic data traffic. Every time you called a foreign website or send an email abroad, you are using a fiber-optic cable on the seabed. Moon, even sizable schemed structures like SpaceX’s Starlink system, cannot move data as quickly and inexpensively as underwater cables.

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When it was announced in 2017, the 13, 000 -kilometer PLCN was touted as the first subsea cable directly connecting Hong kong residents and the United District, letting Google and Facebook to connect speedily and securely with data centers in Asia and open new sells. The 120 terabit-per-second cable was due to begin commercial operation in the summer of 2018.

“PLCN will help connect US businesses and internet users with a strong and growing internet community in Asia, ” they wrote. “PLCN will interconnect … with many of the existing and meant regional and international cables, thereby leading to added dissemination alternatives in the event of disruptions to other plans, whether natural or manmade.”

Instead, it has been PLCN itself that has been stopped, by an ongoing regulatory debate in the US that has become politicized by transaction and technological sciences spats with China.

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Team Telecom, a shadowy US national defence component comprised of representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice( including the FBI ), is tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, including international fiber optic cables. Its regulatory process can be tortuously sluggish. Team Telecom made nearly seven years to decide whether to allow China Mobile, a state-owned company, access to the US telecoms busines, before coming down against it in 2018 on the grounds of “substantial and serious national the safety and law enforcement risks.”

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Although affiliates of Google and Facebook ought to have the public face of PLCN in filings to the FCC, four of the six fiber-optic pairs in the cable actually belong to a company called Pacific Light Data Communication( PLDC ). When development projects was first schemed, PLDC was controlled by Wei Junkang, a Hong kong residents tycoon who the hell is offset his fortune in steel and real estate.

” It is just one of those instants where it is more difficult to land a cable , no matter who the Chinese partner is, because of the political place .”- NYU prof Nicole Starosielski

In December 2017, Wei sold most of his stake in PLDC to Dr Peng Telecom& Media Group, a private broadband provider based in Beijing. That send alarm bells ringing in Washington, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal last year. While Dr Peng is not itself state-owned or controlled, it are working closely with Huawei, a telecoms company the Trump administration has accused of espionage and trade secret theft. Dr Peng has also worked on Chinese government projects, including a surveillance network for the Beijing police.

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PLCN has been law limbo ever since, with Google grumbling fiercely to the FCC about the expense of the ongoing indecision. In 2018, it wrote, “[ any further holdup] would prescribe substantial economic costs. Depending on the length of the lag, the financial viability of the project could be at risk.”

Google and Facebook lastly self-assured special permission to lay the cable in US seas last year, and to construct, connect and temporarily measure a cable bring depot in Los Angeles. But while the network itself is now virtually complete, Team Telecom has yet to make a decision on whether data can start to flow through it.

In the past, Team Telecom has tolerated submarine cables, even from China, to land in the US, as long as the companies operating them ratified what are announced structure security agreements. These agreements generally expect system actions to be based in the US, exploiting an approved listing of equipment and staffed by security-screened personnel. Operators are obliged to block security threats from foreign capabilities, while come forward with lawful surveillance askings from the US government.

In 2017, for example, Team Telecom gave the green light to the New Cross Pacific( NCP) cable instantly connecting China and the US, despite it being part-owned by China Mobile, the state-owned company it later rejected US access to on national defence grounds.

“Normally there wouldn’t be so much fuss over a cable to China, ” says Nicole Starosielski, a prof 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 immediately in China, they’re exclusively a hop-skip away. It is 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.”

In September, Senator Rick Scott( R-FL ), who are participating on Senate committees for technology, communications and homeland security, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to block PLCN. “[ PLCN] peril the freedom of Hong Kong and our national security, ” wrote Scott. “This project is backed by a Chinese partner, Dr Peng Telecom& Media Group Co ., and would ultimately afford a direct link from China into Hong Kong … China has repeatedly shown it cannot be trusted … We cannot tolerate China expanded access to critical American information, even if funded by US companies.”

Google and Facebook examined the writing on the wall. On January 29 last week, representatives from the two companies- but not PLDC- met with FCC officials to propose a brand-new approaching. A filing, constructed the same day, seeks permission to operate merely the two PLCN fiber duets owned by the American companies: Google’s link to Taiwan, and Facebook’s to the Philippines.

“[ Google] and[ Facebook] are not is conscious of any national security issues associated with activity of US-Taiwan and US-Philippine segments, ” reads the application. “For clarity, the[ entreaty] would not authorize any commercial-grade freight on the PLCN system to or from Hong kong residents , nor any its implementation of the PLCN system by PLDC.”

The filling goes on to describe how each fiber duo has its own terminating equipment, with Google’s and Facebook’s connections arriving at Los Angeles in enclosures that are inaccessible to the other fellowships. “PLDC is contractually prohibited under squandering its participation interest in the system to interfere with the ownership or freedoms of use of the other parties, ” it notes.

Neither company would observe directly on the new filing. A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We have been working through established channels so as to obtain cable landing permissions for various undersea cables, and we will continue to abide by the decisions made by designated bureaux in the locations where we operate.”

A Facebook spokesperson said, “We are continuing to navigate through all the appropriate directs on licensing and tolerating for a jointly-owned subsea cable between the US and Asia to provide fast and secure internet access to more parties on both continents.”

“I think peel out the controversial[ Hong Kong] link will work, ” says Starosielski. “But whenever one of these projects either get frustrated, it sends a very strong message. If even Google and Facebook can’t get a cable through, there aren’t going to be a ton of other firms boosting new cable systems between the US and China now.”

Ironically, that means that US data to and from China will continue to flow over the NCP cable controlled under China Mobile- the only company that Team Telecom and the FCC have ever turned down on national defence grounds.

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