‘Team Telecom’ Formalized into New Committee; Increased Scrutiny of Chinese Involvement in US Telecommunications Services Continues
By White & Case
April 15, 2020
On April 4, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) establishing the ‘Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector’ (the Committee). The Committee replaces the ad hoc interagency group known as ‘Team Telecom’ in advising the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on national security and law enforcement aspects of foreign involvement in the US telecommunications services sector. The EO establishes an official structure, timeline, scope of authority, and review process for the Committee. While this long-anticipated formalization of Team Telecom is facially neutral with respect to reviews of foreign participation in the US telecommunications services sector, it was undertaken as part of broader Executive Branch actions that have increased scrutiny of Chinese involvement.
Committee Purpose and Function
Under the terms of the EO, the Committee’s primary objective is to assist the FCC in its “public interest” review of national security and law enforcement concerns that may be raised by foreign participation in the US telecommunications services sector.
- Members – The Committee retains the same members as the former Team Telecom: the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security (collectively, the Members). The Committee may also include “the head of any other executive department or agency, or any Assistant to the President, as the President determines appropriate”. The Committee is chaired by the Attorney General (the Chair).
- Advisors – The EO provides that eleven additional Executive Branch officials shall be advisors to the Committee (the Advisors).1 Advisors have no role in the Committee’s functions except as expressly set forth in the EO (described below).
- Scope of Review – The EO permits Committee review of both new applications and existing licenses.
- New Applications: The Committee must conduct a review of any application referred to it by the FCC to evaluate whether granting the requested license or license transfer may pose national security or law enforcement risks. The FCC’s practice with Team Telecom has been to refer (i) international section 214 and submarine cable landing license applications where an applicant has 10-percent-or-greater direct or indirect foreign ownership, and (ii) petitions seeking authority to exceed Communications Act Section 310(b) foreign ownership limits for broadcast and common carrier wireless licensees.
- Existing Licenses: The EO also permits the Committee to review existing FCC licenses “to identify any additional or new risks to national security or law enforcement interests of the United States,” even in the absence of any change in foreign interest in the licensee, and presumably even licenses the applications for which had not qualified for referral to the Committee (or formerly, Team Telecom) in the first instance. Such a review must be approved by a majority vote of the Committee Members and notice of the review must be promptly provided to the Committee Advisors.