Ajit Pai, Chairman of FCC, has called on his colleagues to vote against granting a licence to China Mobile, citing national security concerns.
In a public statement tilted “FCC Chairman Opposes China Mobile’s Telecom Services Application”, Pai said that he believed, after reviewing the relevant evidence, “China Mobile’s application to provide telecommunications services in our country raises substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks. Therefore, I do not believe that approving it would be in the public interest.” He went on to request the Commission team to “join me in voting to reject China Mobile’s application.”
This should not come as any surprise. One piece that stood out among the “input provided by other federal agencies” Pai referred to in his statement already set the tone. It was a brief statement issued by David J. Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, U.S. Department of Commerce. “After significant engagement with China Mobile, concerns about increased risks to U.S. law enforcement and national security interests were unable to be resolved. Therefore, the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration pursuant to its statutory responsibility to coordinate the presentation of views of the Executive Branch to the FCC, recommends that the FCC deny China Mobile’s Section 214 license request.” The statement was released through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the Department of Commerce.
China Mobile Limited, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscriber numbers, is partially listed (27.28%) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The Chinese government, through the parent company China Mobile Communications Group Co., Ltd., controls the rest of the company. Its US subsidiary, China Mobile USA, registered in Delaware, filed an application in 2011 to offer international telephony service between the US and other countries. But it had remained dormant until it was reviewed by the Trump administration last year.
China Mobile would have to operate as a virtual network anyway as it lacks the infrastructure. That worries the US officials that the operator, ultimately the Chinese government, would be able to exploit the American telecommunication networks for intelligence gathering purposes, therefore compromise the security of the government and the public. “There is a significant risk that the Chinese government would use the grant of authority to China Mobile USA to conduct activities that would seriously jeopardize the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States,” an FCC official told the reporters, quoted by Reuters.
The vote by the FCC Commissioners will take place at the May 2019 Open Commission Meeting to be held on 9 May. The result will likely go Pai’s way if the commissioners vote along party line. Three out of the five commission seats are occupied by Republicans, as is Pai himself.