The Department of Justice of the U.S. announced on Friday that Team Telecom entered into National Security Agreements with Google LLC and its subsidiary GU Holdings Inc., and Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly known as Facebook Inc.) and its subsidiary Edge Cable Holdings USA LLC to protect data on the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) system, an undersea fiber optic cable system that will connect the United States, Taiwan and the Philippines. Consequently, Team Telecom cleared licensing blockage on the PLCN system.

DOJ news on PLCN

The National Security Agreements were made with the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Defense (DOD), and Homeland Security (DHS) in their roles as members of the committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the U.S. Telecommunications and Services Sector (known informally as Team Telecom), and were coordinated with committee advisors listed in section 3(d) of Executive Order 13913 (2020). The Executive Branch has recommended that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) condition any license to operate the PLCN system on compliance with the National Security Agreements.

Under the National Security Agreements, Google and Meta (and their subsidiaries) have agreed to (among other terms):

  • Conduct annual assessments of risk to sensitive data that transits the PLCN cable system, including when the data exits the cable;
  • Pursue diversification of interconnection points in Asia, including but not limited to Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam; and
  • Restrict access to information and infrastructure by Pacific Light Data Communications Co. Ltd (PLDC), the Hong Kong-based owner of PLCN that withdrew its application for an FCC license.

In April 2017, Google, Meta (formerly Facebook) and PLDC filed the FCC an Application for a License to Construct, Land, and Operate the Pacific Light Cable Network to connect the United States to Hong Kong, with branches to Taiwan and the Philippines.

In June 2020, Team Telecom publicly recommended that the FCC partially deny the above application for PLCN with respect to PLCN’s proposed connections to Hong Kong and to the portions of the PLCN owned by PLDC. Shortly after that recommendation, the applicants withdrew the original PLCN application in August 2020. Meanwhile, Google’s and Meta’s subsidiaries then filed a new FCC application removing Hong Kong and seeking to operate only the United States, Taiwan and Philippines portions of PLCN.

The following chart shows the PLCN cable system diagram and network connectivity. 

PLCN US-Taiwan and US-Philippines
PLCN system diagram and network connectivity, Source: FCC Public Notice


According to its public notice, the FCC has referred the application to the Department of State pursuant to the Submarine Cable Landing License Act of 1921 and Executive Order No. 10530. 47 U.S.C. §§ 34-39, Executive Order No. 10530 (reprinted as amended in 3 U.S .C. §301). This begins the 30-day review process set out in the letter from the Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs to the Chairman, Federal Communications Commission (dated Dec. 3, 2001).

The PLCN system connecting the US to Taiwan and the Philippines will be put into commercial operation shortly, increasing supply of capacity across the Pacific.