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Report: US might block Google-backed LA-Hong Kong undersea cable over national security

Google has three approaches for expanding its global fiber network. Recently, the company has been building private intercontinental cables, but still buys capacity or joins consortiums where the cost is split. One Google-backed undersea cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong could be blocked by the US under national security concerns.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Justice is opposing the Pacific Light Cable Network that connects Hong Kong and Los Angeles. At issue is how one financier — Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group Co. — for the project has close ties to the Chinese government.

A general concern is foreign governments blocking or tapping internet traffic, while the multiagency panel responsible for reviewing telecommunication projects is taking a harder stance on deals involving China in the past year.

It also comes amidst the Hong Kong protests, with cable links to the Chinese territory being seen as more secure than ones directly to the mainland in the past. However, given Hong Kong’s reduced autonomy that “distinction is becoming less relevant,” according to a WSJ source.

The Pacific Light Cable Network spans 8,000 miles, and 6,800 miles of cable has already been laid. Facebook and Google partnered in 2016 to provide US financing, with the latter tasked with building the LA landing site.

The hope was to provide greater bandwidth to markets where internet usage is growing, including mainland China, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It could be operational by December or January if things proceed according to plan.

Today’s report cites a $300 million project cost that would be lost if the Justice Department does not grant a license and Google’s undersea cable is blocked. The FCC is officially responsible for approval, but the agency often defers to the review panel. In a comment to the WSJ, Google says it’s working with the US on “satisfying their requirements specifically for the PLCN cable.”

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: