US failed to properly oversee Chinese telecom carriers, says Senate panel

WASHINGTON: A US Senate report released Tuesday says the US government failed to properly oversee Chinese-owned telecommunications companies for nearly two decades.

The report from the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations says the US government “provided little-to-no oversight of Chinese state-owned telecommunications carriers operating in the United States for nearly 20 years.”

It faulted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and “Team Telecom” – an informal group comprising officials from the Justice, Homeland Security, and Defence Departments – in their oversight of China Telecom (Americas) Corp, China Unicom (Americas), and Pacific Networks Corp, which all received FCC approval for US operations about two decades ago.

In April, the FCC issued show-cause orders requiring the three state-owned Chinese carriers to explain why the agency should not revoke their authorisation to operate in the United States.

All three carriers have urged the FCC not to do that.

The report urged the FCC to quickly decide whether to revoke the three Chinese carriers’ authorisations.

“Federal agencies have done little to protect the integrity of US telecommunications networks and counter national security threats from China,” the panel’s chairman, Rob Portman, a Republican, said in a statement.

The panel’s top Democrat, Tom Carper, said the report shows “how we’ve allowed Chinese government-owned companies gain a foothold in our telecommunications industry while their American competitors face significant barriers to entry in China”.

In May 2019, the FCC denied approval for another Chinese carrier, China Mobile Ltd, to operate in the United States, citing national security concerns.

An FCC spokesman said the commission looks forward to reviewing the Senate report.

Team Telecom until recently conducted limited oversight of the Chinese state-owned carriers and had no interaction with China Unicom Americas since the FCC’s authorisation in 2002, the report found.

The White House issued an executive order in April to formalise Team Telecom’s scrutiny of foreign telecommunications firms, but the panel wants Congress to grant formal legislative authority to “provide for greater oversight over foreign carriers”.