The United States Department of Justice and other federal agencies asked the Federal Communications Commission to terminate China Telecom’s authorization to operate in the US, a development that could deal another blow to China-backed DITO Telecommunity’s rollout in the Philippines.
China Telecom owns 40 percent of DITO, which is in the midst of building network infrastructure in the Philippines in an attempt to become the country’s third major telecoms operator.
The US agencies, including the Department of Justice and the State Department, are calling for the revocation of China Telecom’s license to carry out international telecommunications services to and from the US. They are concerned that state-owned China Telecom is “vulnerable to exploitation, influence and control” by the Chinese government.
“Today, more than ever, the life of the nation and its people runs on our telecommunications networks,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.
The American federal agencies laid out several issues they had with China Telecom including the “evolving national security environment since 2007” and “increased knowledge of the People’s Republic of China’s role in malicious cyber activity targeting the United States.”
The agencies said that China Telecom is “vulnerable to exploitation, influence and control by the PRC government”.
DITO Telecommunity chief administrative officer Adel Tamano said they are relying significantly on their consortium partner China Telecom for technology needed to challenge incumbents Globe Telecom and PLDT. “They are our technology partner and we are leaning heavily on them for that. Sila ang expert dyan [They are the experts],” Tamano said.
DITO experienced several setbacks in their network rollout which forced them to push their commercial launch back to March 2021. The telco’s franchise agreement requires them to put up at least 1,600 towers by July of this year, but only 600 structures are under construction at present.
Company officials admitted that the remaining 1,000 towers may face further delays as the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted manufacturing and shipments of steel and fiber optic cables from China.
To add to these, DITO’s deal with the Armed Forces of the Philippines that allows them to build their facilities within military camps also faced scrutiny from lawmakers over national security and spying concerns, also related to their partnership with China Telecom.
The company’s reliance on the Pacific Light Cable Network is yet another issue, as the US Department of Justice seems intent on blocking the undersea data cable that would link Los Angeles to Hong Kong with the Philippines as one of its landing stations.
Google and Facebook already seem resigned to losing a section of their longest and highest-profile internet cable to date. In a filing with the FCC last week, the two companies requested permission to activate the PLCN between the US and the Philippines and Taiwan, leaving its problematic Hong Kong and Chinese sections dormant.
“Perhaps, people will call this a delay but I think at the end of the day, the consumer will be happier,” Tamano said about DITO’s rollout woes.