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Senate subcommittee blasts FCC and Team Telecom approach to Chinese supply chain threats

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released on Tuesday a report, “Threats to US Networks: Oversight of Chinese Government-owned Carriers.” The document slams the current government review process that oversees how Chinese telecom companies operate in the United States for not rigorously monitoring Chinese tech providers. It outlines a Senate investigation that began shortly after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May 2019 denied a China Mobile USA application to provide international telecom services.

The subcommittee said it reviewed more than 6,400 pages of documents and conducted more than ten interviews, including interviews with representatives from the FCC, Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), China Telecom Americas, China Unicom Americas, ComNet, AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink. The subcommittee also said it met with researchers who analyzed the Chinese government’s use of telecommunications carriers to hijack communications.

The subcommittee’s investigation found that the FCC and “Team Telecom,” a formerly informal group composed of representatives from the DOJ, DHS and Department of Defense, have failed to adequately monitor three Chinese government-owned carriers, China Telecom Americas, China Unicom Americas, and ComNet since they began operating in the United States in the early 2000s. 

“This bipartisan report demonstrates that federal agencies have done little to protect the integrity of US telecommunications networks and counter national security threats from China,” Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman of the Subcommittee said in a statement. Tom Carper (D-DE), the ranking member of the subcommittee, echoed Porter, in saying “Our bipartisan report reveals how little oversight has been done of Chinese telecommunications carriers that operate here in the United States.”

Lack of cybersecurity authority in telecom oversight

Although the subcommittee offers a lengthy list of concerns, of particular importance is the lack of real authority that either the FCC or Team Telecom has had in overseeing what the subcommittee characterizes as a Chinese telecommunications market heavily controlled by the government in Beijing. 

Among the Subcommittee’s, many findings were the following:

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