Team Telecom, a shadowy US national security unit tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, is delaying plans by Google, Facebook and other tech companies for the next generation of international fiber optic cables.
Team Telecom comprises representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice (including the FBI), who assess foreign investments in American telecom infrastructure, with a focus on cybersecurity and surveillance vulnerabilities.
Team Telecom works at a notoriously sluggish pace, taking over seven years to decide that letting China Mobile operate in the US would “raise substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks,” for instance. And while Team Telecom is working, applications are stalled at the FCC.
The on-going delays to submarine cable projects, which can cost nearly half a billion dollars each, come with significant financial impacts. They also cede advantage to connectivity projects that have not attracted Team Telecom’s attention – such as the nascent internet satellite mega-constellations from SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon.
Team Telecom’s investigations have long been a source of tension within Silicon Valley. Google’s subsidiary GU Holdings Inc has been building a network of international submarine fiber-optic cables for over a decade. Every cable that lands on US soil is subject to Team Telecom review, and each one has faced delays and restrictions.