Govt to protect domestic subsea cable routes

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Govt to protect domestic subsea cable routes

Legislative changes finally tabled.

Domestic submarine fibre optic cables could be afforded the same protections as international links under legislative changes introduced to parliament.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull tabled amendments to schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act, which deals with protection zones for submarine cables.

The amendments were born out of a 2010 statutory review of schedule 3A by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which oversees enforcement of the rules.

The previous Department of Broadband had been consulting on the proposed amendments up until the recent federal election.

Many of the changes aim to harmonise the rules with international laws or to formalise and simplify cable permit approval processes.

However, an important change being canvassed in the bill is expanding the protections afforded to cables that connect Australian locations.

"Currently, Schedule 3A only applies to submarine cables that connect a place in Australia to a place outside of Australia," the government said in an explanatory memorandum that accompanies the bill. (pdf)

"However, there may be undersea cables that connect one place in Australia to another place in Australia (domestic submarine cables) that have potential economic and wider importance and, therefore, warrant protection."

Under the proposed changes, domestic submarine cable operators would also be able to land their cables in existing cable protection zones, of which there are two in Sydney and one in Perth.

"This is something not currently possible under the regime as currently in force," Turnbull said in a second reading speech to parliament.

Domestic cables could still be landed outside a protection zone, as this would still not fall under the 3A rules, the explanatory memorandum notes.

Vocus has laid two domestic submarine cables across Sydney Harbour and Middle Harbour in the past two years.

Trident Subsea Cable — one of three operators vying to service the Perth-Singapore route — is also planning a domestic portion, running from north-west Western Australia to Perth.

Turnbull reiterated the importance of appropriate submarine cable protection mechanisms owing to the impact that cable breakages had on internet communications and connectivity.

"Australia is one of only a handful of nations that has a dedicated regime for the protection of submarine cables," he said.

"The bill will ensure that Australia's regime continues to be a best practice regime and the protection the regime affords to this vital infrastructure is maintained."

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