A China Mobile bid to provide telecoms services in the US appeared doomed after Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai opposed the operator’s application on national security grounds.

In a statement, Pai said reviews by the FCC and other federal agencies determined China Mobile’s request to build interconnection facilities in the country, made in 2011, “raises substantial and serious national security and law enforcement threats”.

He urged the other four members of the FCC to vote with him to block the application at a meeting on 9 May. Pai’s recommendation carries weight as members of his political party hold a majority on the Commission.

In July 2018, the US Department of Commerce (DoC) advised the FCC to deny the request, also citing national security concerns.

Threat assessment
Senior FCC officials said China Mobile submitted a detailed mitigation proposal in an attempt to allay the DoC’s fears. This was considered alongside the DoC’s recommendation in a fresh review by the FCC, which ultimately decided to recommend denial.

The FCC’s core worry is the amount of control the Chinese government has over China Mobile, the officials explained. Giving the company greater access to US telecommunications infrastructure and traffic could leave domestic networks vulnerable to foreign surveillance and other nefarious intrusions, they added.

Pai’s statement marks the first time the FCC has recommended denial of such an application on national security grounds.

The move comes as the FCC weighs an order which would ban operators from buying telecoms equipment from companies deemed national security threats. The agency is still determining which companies would be prohibited, the officials said.

There is no appeals process for the pending FCC decision, but China Mobile could challenge a negative outcome in court.