Lawmakers Call on FCC to Reexamine Licenses for Two Chinese Telecom Firms

Sen. Tom Cotton

Sen. Tom Cotton Andrew Harnik/AP

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Sens. Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton fear the state-owned companies present national security threats.

A bipartisan pair of senators wants the Federal Communications Commission to consider banning two Chinese telecommunications providers from U.S. networks.

Citing national security concerns, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Monday asked the commission to reexamine its decision to allow the two companies—China Telecom and China Unicom—to continue operating in the U.S. 

The state-owned firms could act as conduits for economic espionage and other nefarious activities and could give Chinese government officials “the ability to target the content of communications of Americans or their businesses and U.S. government,” they wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other federal officials.

“We may be currently exposing ourselves to substantial economic, national security and law enforcement risks because of past decisions by the FCC that have not been revisited despite China’s continued cyberattacks against our country,” they said.

In May, the FCC revoked the operating license of a different Chinese provider, China Mobile, on grounds that the company presented a threat to national security. In the letter, lawmakers argue the two other firms carry similar risks, and their licenses should be reexamined in light of the growing tensions between the U.S. and China. Commissioners should consult federal law enforcement, national security and trade policy officials before making their decision, they said.

The request comes as government leaders work to oust other Chinese tech companies from U.S. markets for fear of economic espionage and other national security threats. 

Last year, Congress passed legislation barring federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from doing business with Huawei and ZTE. The Commerce Department also added Huawei and numerous affiliates to its entity list, giving American companies until Nov. 19 to cut ties with the firm.