White House Order Formalizes Scrutiny of Foreign Telecom License Apps

An executive order signed by President Trump on April 4 creates a formal Federal agency structure to scrutinize applications by foreign entities to acquire U.S.-based telecommunications assets, the Department of Justice said (DoJ) on April 7.

The order creates a structure for what has been known informally for years as “Team Telecom” – a group of intelligence, civilian, and defense agencies that makes recommendations on the national security implications of applications filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by foreign entities to acquire U.S. telecom assets. Those review activities are separate from other regulatory input on telecom deals by antitrust regulators and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS).

The White House order formally creates the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector, which will “assist the FCC in its public interest review of national security and law enforcement concerns” that may arise from “foreign participation” in the U.S. telecom services sector.  The new committee will make recommendations to the FCC do dismiss, deny, condition, and revoke foreign license applications.

DoJ said the new Team Telecom arrangement “will benefit from a transparent and empowered structure.”

Members of the new committee will include the Attorney General as chair, and the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security.  Advisory committee members will include the secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce; Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director; U.S. Trade Representative; Director of National Intelligence; General Services Administrator; Office of Science and Technology Policy Director; assistants to the President for National Security Affairs and Economic Policy; and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Attorney General William Barr commented, “In the digital age, our telecommunications networks are more important than ever, and not just to the economy . . . This is a national security and public safety issue.  That’s why the federal government must be vigilant and ensure that a foreign adversary cannot undermine the networks our country depends on.”

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“We welcome foreign participation in our communications system, but we must ensure that anyone licensed to do business here is a trusted partner,” said John Demers, Assistant AG for National Security.  “The National Security Division is ready and proud to lead this effort to increase transparency to the public, certainty and timeliness for the business community, and security for the nation,” he said.

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