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Once Neglected, Subsea Broadband Cables Face Fresh Challenges, Federal and Local



Screenshot of David Robles, managing director of sales at SubCom, holding a subsea fiber optic cable at the webinar

June 23, 2020 — Due to the nature of its services, the subsea cable industry deals with numerous threats on a routine basis. In a webinar hosted by Federal Communications Bar Association on Monday, panelists detailed the challenges that the submarine cable industry faces as it attempts to connect the globe.

While some may have the perception that internet transmissions rely heavily on satellite connections, in reality, 99 percent of international voice and data is transmitted through undersea fiber optic cables.

Submarine, or subsea, cables are the backbone of the international telecommunications industry. The infrastructure consists of approximately 400 cables buried under the sea floor and laid along the seabed to carry communications signals across the ocean, between land-based stations.

While these networks are highly reliable, they are also highly susceptible to hazards and much is required for risk mitigation.

Industry challenges include fishing interference, seasonal weather restrictions, international tax dealings, inconsistent market demands and even pirates, noted David Robles, managing director of sales at SubCom.

Submarine cables face unavoidable security risks of digital espionage or sabotage

At the federal level, a major danger associated with subsea cables is the risk of digital espionage or sabotage of data security.

As ensuring cybersecurity is a priority of government, the Department of Justice created a committee called Team Telecom, under the National Security Division, to enhance security by assisting the Federal Communications Commission in the review of foreign participation in U.S. telecommunications.

One of Team Telecoms duties has been to review subsea cable applications to consider whether each application promotes the security of the United States.

“The Department of Justice is concerned with a number of factors including preventing abuses, protecting infrastructure and preserving infrastructure for intelligence purposes,” said Loyaan Egal, deputy chief of Team Telecom.

Submarine cables are problematic from a security perspective because maps of the cables are publicly available, as is necessary to intervene damages that would otherwise be caused by shipping and fishing industries.

The availability of the locations of cables means the information is also easily accessible to malicious actors.

Additionally, there are local-level challenges to submarine cable infrastructure

At the local and state level there are further challenges in developing and maintaining subsea cables.

Debra M. Bryan, associate city attorney of Virginia Beach, Virginia, detailed the subsea cable permitting process from a local perspective, as she personally navigated the course of bringing the first international submarine cables to the shores of Virginia Beach.

Bryan said that it took the city a long time to figure out what to do, saying she felt like she could get the cable permitted across the globe before getting it permitted here in the United States.

City leaders realized that under Virginia law, public property cannot be leased to a private entity. To sidestep this technicality, the property was leased to the city, and then the city of Virginia Beach subleased the property to private entities.

Bryan noted that the international permitting process is not only complicated, but “different everywhere you go.”

The city of Virginia Beach successfully surpassed local, state and federal authorization obstacles. It currently hosts three international submarine cables: MAREA, which connects the US to Spain, BRUSA, which connects the US to Brazil, and DUNANT, which connects the US to France.

Looking forward, the panelists predicted that geographic congestion of subsea cables is likely to become a concern. As more activity is happening in the ocean, available areas for cables to land is decreasing.

Subsea cables currently in place were instrumental in keeping up with the increased bandwidth demands that came along with the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Open Access

Financing Mechanisms for Community Broadband, Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 3 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.



Video from Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Kim McKinley, Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber, Jeff Christensen, President & CEO, EntryPoint Networks, Jane Coffin, Chief Community Officer, Connect Humanity, Robert Wack, former Westminster Common Council President and leader of the Open Access Citywide Fiber Network Initiative, and moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

For a free article summarizing the event, see Communities Need Governance Seat on Broadband Builds, Conference Hears: Communities need to be involved in decision-making when it comes to broadband builds, Broadband Breakfast, November 17, 2022

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Fiber Providers Need to Go Beyond Speed for Differentiation, Consultant Says

40 percent are unsure of their home internet speeds, said Jonathan Chaplin of New Street Research.



Photo of Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2022 – Despite fiber’s fast broadband speeds, providers must innovate and offer other benefits – like content bundling – to maintain market share as customers increasingly make purchasing decisions based on non-speed factors, argued Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research, a telecommunications and technology research firm.

“Our message to the cable industry is: Stop marketing on speed, put everybody on the gigabit tier, and start differentiating on everything else,” Chaplin said at a Fiber Broadband Association event Wednesday.

Chaplin also urged fiber providers to prepare to enter the wireless market, saying that wireless and broadband will soon “converge into one marketplace.

“It’s not a major differentiator or driver of consumers’ decisions today, but you need to start working on this as a product category to be ready for it by the time it [is],” he added.

And raw speed won’t be enough to attract customers, Chaplin argued. Although consumers say speed and price are the two top factors when considering internet plans, he said, his research shows that 40 percent are unsure of their home internet speeds.

Typical speeds have greatly increased in recent years, and Chaplin said faster service provides no perceptible benefit to most customers once certain speeds are reached. According to his data, “Increases in speed (above 200 Mbps) really have no impact on the satisfaction of a household with their broadband provider.”

Fixed-wireless uptake shows speed isn’t always king

The rise of fixed-wireless providers, who usually don’t advertise on speed, further demonstrates that consumers are willing to make purchase decisions on other factors, Chaplin argued. In fact, his research shows that many new fixed-wireless customers did not make the switch due to speed complaints.

“If you’re in the fiber business, you’re in a strong position. You’ve got a product that wins in the market today, but you cannot afford to be complacent,” Chaplin said. “The battleground for consumers is going to shift and you need to be ready for shift when it comes,” he added.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a proposal to mandate “broadband nutrition labels,” which proponents say would help consumers understand the details of their internet plans. Researchers at the TPRC 2022 conference in September suggested that such labels should include “interpretive” data to explain the real-world implications of technical metrics. TPRC speakers also echoed Chaplin’s claim increased speeds do not necessarily correlate with higher customer satisfaction rates.

Industry players differ on substantive policy points surrounding the proposal, however, including whether labels should be mandatorily included on month internet bills.

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COVID Funds Ensuring NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Funding Adequate: Conexon Executive

‘The way you close the digital divide is you build fiber to every single rural home,’ Jonathan Chambers said.



Photo of Jonathan Chambers, partner at Conexon

WASHINGTON, October 17, 2022 – Millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, which are currently being deployed by states to extend broadband networks, is helping ensure that new broadband money allocated from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will be sufficient to extend fiber to all homes in America, said a telecom executive on a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

Since many states are using ARPA funding to deploy new networks, fewer than ten million locations will “be left for BEAD after ARPA,” said Jonathan Chambers, partner at rural internet service provider co-op Conexon, referring to the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Since the American Rescue Plan became law in March 2021, federal programs – including the Capital Projects Fund and the Emergency Connectivity Program – and state governments have put tens of billions of ARPA-appropriated dollars towards broadband various projects.

Chambers, whose company builds fiber networks and works primarily with rural electric cooperatives, said he wants to refute the arguments of fiber skeptics by going “to the hardest-to-serve, poorest places in the country and demonstrate you can build fiber there,” saying the company is working to build a fiber network to every home and business in East Carrol Parish, Louisiana.

An argument against fiber builds in rural areas has been the expense required to do so.

The BEAD program will dispense block grants to the states based on relative need. States will issue subgrants for broadband infrastructure and other projects. Pro-fiber advocates like Chambers and FBA President Gary Bolton support using these funds primarily for fiber deployments.

“The way you close the digital divide is you build fiber to every single rural home,” Chambers said.

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