The FCC plans to extend mandatory reporting on service outages to submarine cable systems by issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) during its monthly meeting in September.
It will consider a draft NPRM that proposes to require submarine cable licensees to report significant outages in appropriate detail through the FCC's Network Outage Reporting System (NORS), where other wireline and wireless communications providers already report outages.
Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, said in a blog post that submarine cable providers, which are often run by a consortium of different service providers, should be held accountable under the same reporting rules that wireline, satellite and wireless providers have to abide by today.
"While submarine cables are vital to America's economic and national security, licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis, and the information that we receive is too limited to be of use," Wheeler said. "In contrast, other communications providers -- including wireline, wireless, and satellite -- are required to report outages to the FCC's Network Outage Reporting System."
By providing more consistent reporting on submarine cable outages, the FCC said it will be able to better identify trends, address systemic issues and inform policy making.
"The FCC needs to get timely information about submarine cable outages, with enough detail to understand the nature and impact of any damage and disruption to communications, help mitigate any impact on emergency services and consumers, and assist in service restoration," Wheeler said.
If the regulator approves the new rules, submarine cable license holders would be required to report significant outages in detail through NORS, the system used by other communications providers to report outages.
Despite new efforts to increase network redundancy on submarine cable networks, weather and other environmental issues have made submarine cable outages a common problem.
"This is not a hypothetical," Wheeler said. "It happened last month in the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific Ocean. The cause: a break in an undersea cable."
Wheeler cited the recent cable break that took place on IT&E's submarine cable in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in July, leaving residents and businesses without the ability to make credit card transactions or withdraw money from ATMs. IT&E, a subsidiary of PTI, invested $14 million in 1997 to lay an undersea fiber-optic cable that links the CNMI and Guam, and from Guam across the Pacific.
According to FCC and industry estimates, there are about 60 submarine cables that provide connectivity between the mainland U.S. and consumers in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the rest of the world.
But the number submarine cables that are coming into the U.S. continues to grow. Over the next two years, a number of cables are set to go in place, including Seaborn Networks' Seabras-1 and the Hawaiian Telcom-led South-East Asia-United States (SEA-US) cable. Both of these providers are seeing growing interest from other providers to buy capacity on these cables.
Hawaiian Telcom said that a number of traditional service providers and content providers have been purchasing capacity on its portion of SEA-US, reaching close to $30 million in sales. Likewise, Seaborn announced in the fall of 2014 that Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) signed a contract with the service provider to become a foundational customer on the Seabras-1 network, which will become operational in 2017.
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