International Cable Protection Committee

Sharing the seabed in harmony with others

The International Cable Protection Committee represents 97% of the world’s subsea telecom cables.

The ICPC has more than 170 MEMBERS in over 60 COUNTRIES and has the vision of being the premier international submarine cable authority through providing leadership, knowledge and guidance on issues related to submarine cable security and reliability.

2020 ICPC Plenary Meeting: Madrid, Spain

Having closely monitored the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic the ICPC’s Executive Committee and Secretariat have concluded that we must postpone the Madrid Plenary until 2021 in the same venue. The 2021 ICPC Plenary will be held at the Novotel Madrid Center on Tuesday 13th to Thursday 15th April 2021 inclusive. We will have the same conference facilities as planned for this year. Thank you for your understanding and support of the ICPC’s activities. The Executive Committee and Secretariat look forward to seeing you in Madrid in 2021.

Latest News

The ICPC issues its 'Call for Papers' for the 2020 Plenary

Sunday, 10 November 2019

'ICPC 2020 Vision: Reliability, Security, Resilience and Sustainability of vital international submarine cables'

The 2020 ICPC Plenary will take place in the Novotel Madrid Center in Spain from 28-30 April 2020. The ICPC asks interested presenters to submit abstracts for proposed presentations by Friday 31st January 2020 Friday 14th February 2020. The ICPC welcomes abstracts from ICPC Members and other interested parties. For specific details, please read the details below.

2020 ICPC Plenary 'Call for Papers'
Adobe Acrobat Document (.pdf) - 161 KB

ICPC Participates in Roundtable on Tsunami Detection and Warning

Monday, 28 October 2019

Organised by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP), the ICPC participated in the roundtable ‘Maritime Sector Strategies to Augment Tsunami Monitoring with Economic, Safety and Environmental Co-benefits’ at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore on 22 August 2019. Representatives from the ICPC included the ICPC Vice Chair Graham Evans, ICPC International Cable Law Adviser (ICLA) Kent Bressie and ICPC Member representatives: Laurie Doyle (Edge Networks), Simon Webster (NEC Corporation), and Yue Meng-Fai (Singapore Telecommunications Limited).

The roundtable focused on the legal and commercial considerations for dual-purpose cables that will help encourage exploration of commercial opportunities and innovation while minimising legal and regulatory complications by discouraging any legal mandate to require sensors on commercial submarine telecommunications systems.

In addition, the roundtable concentrated on three sectoral opportunities for gathering marine environmental data (one panel devoted to each sector, a panel on sustainable development and one concluding ‘co-benefits’ panel) sensors on commercial shipping vessels; tide gauges on offshore oil and gas platforms; and dual-purpose telecom-marine data cables. Adding to the event, the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency gave a presentation that demonstrated the near-field tsunami problems in Indonesia, differences between Indonesian tsunamis and those elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean region, the ineffectiveness of a buoy warning solution, as well as the trade-off between accuracy and speed of warning.

Additional presentations included one from Professor Robert Beckman, (from the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore), on the UNCLOS framework applicable to shipping, oil and gas, submarine cables, and marine scientific research and Ocean Specialist Inc. addressed the ‘co-benefits’ of industry partnering with governments on tsunami detection and warning activities.

On 23 August 2019, a sub-group of roundtable participants met to discuss the event’s outcome and consider the ICPC’s next steps.

Article: “Internet Infrastructure: Where foreign affairs and the climate crisis intersect”

Friday, 06 September 2019

ICPC Vice Chairman, Graham Evans and ICPC Member organisation, XSite Modular contributed to the following article written by Nicole Starosielski, titled: ‘Internet Infrastructure: Where foreign affairs and the climate crisis intersect.’ The article was first published with on 30 July 2019.

When most people think about struggles over the global internet, platforms and content come to mind: the $5 billion fine levied at Facebook for privacy violations. Antitrust law and Google and Amazon’s corporate monopolies. The discrimination of artificial intelligence. The politics of content moderation and data governance.

Occasionally, hardware surfaces, as in the case of Australian, Japanese and US bans on Chinese telecom manufacturers. More often, infrastructure is relegated to the background. The expansive web of cables, data centres, internet exchanges, cloud services and content delivery networks are invisible to most users. As a result, they are less often a target of governance.

This is especially true for the most international of all internet infrastructure: undersea cables. Cable systems are the backbone of the global internet. They carry almost all internet traffic across continents and underneath oceans. They facilitate transactions between financial centres. They are the means by which air transportation and shipping is coordinated. And they transport the bulk of all messages between people around the world. Undersea cables are a primary medium of foreign relations.

Cables have supported global interconnection — and re-shaped global trade, relationships and policies — since the nineteenth century. But today the sheer amount of digital information circulated means that nations are highly dependent on cables. When the Polynesian islands that make up Tonga were subject to a set of cable breaks this past January, it disrupted banking, tourism, transportation and business. Being severed from the cable network can produce a rift in a nation’s social and economic stability. If climate change threatens the cable network, it could transform all international relations.

The internet under water

As National Geographic reported last year in “The Internet is Drowning,” climate change poses a threat to the internet’s infrastructure. At first, undersea cables might seem an exception, offering a secure means of communication in rising waters. But cables, like so many other communications systems, are vulnerable to environmental changes and extreme weather.

Cables are susceptible both along their winding subsea routes and at their coastal landing points. Many cable stations, the places where systems terminate after coming ashore, were built before climate change was a consideration in builders’ minds. Stations are often located near the coast, sometimes just a short walk from the beach. Some extend underground well below sea level in Cold War-style bunkers. Some exist in remote areas, where human access could become impossible in extreme weather. Amy Marks of XSite Modular, a company that manufactures telecommunications infrastructure, argues that changing weather patterns are “a real threat for cable landing stations.”

But the undersea network won’t be the first casualty of climate change, by far. Compared to other built architectures, cable landing stations are some of the most secure locations in the internet’s infrastructure. There’s surveillance. There are fences and concrete walls. There are backup generators and batteries in case the power goes out. In some cases, cable stations have become places of refuge for employees when local power and water shut off. In any given community, the cable station is likely to be one of the safest places to be. Marks recounts that in 2018 an XSite Modular cable station in Tinian, near Guam, even made it through a direct hit by a Category 5 super typhoon without any damage.

But even these hardened infrastructures — with their backup generators and insulated systems — eventually require people and power to function. The global network cannot be sustained without the grid. As the environment changes, the grid fails and people are subject to floods and fires, the cable station, too, will be exposed to the elements. In the process, so will the international connections that it supports.

Escaping to outer space?

Cables still carry almost all internet traffic, but there’s been some recent hype about the return of satellite. SpaceX’s Elon Musk plans to launch close to 12,000 internet-delivering satellites. Amazon’s Project Kuiper is a broadband system with over 3,000 satellites. OneWeb promises to finally give everyone access to reliable, high-speed internet. These projects are the beginning of an internet space race, all taking place in the low-Earth orbit, less than 2,000 km above the planet’s surface.

Although these satellites extend service to locations that would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach by undersea cables, they do not approach the amount of capacity cables provide. They are not an alternative internet backbone. At the recent SubOptic conference, Tim Stronge and Alan Mauldin of the research firm Telegeography conducted an analysis of the competition. Even with the many satellites planned, they showed that space systems are unlikely to match — or even come close to — the undersea network. For now, and in the future, the global economy, international relations and digital exchanges will all remain tied to a communications system that rests on the ocean floor and which is subject to changes in terrestrial and oceanic conditions.

Securing the system

The cable industry is aware of climate change — and many people have started researching ways to make the system greener. These include decreasing cables’ power consumption, planning for solar and wind power, and reducing the energy use of massive cable laying ships. There are even science cables deployed as a means of tracking ocean conditions and, by extension, the effects of climate change. Cable owners have also begun to think about protecting networks themselves from climate change.

Historically, cable protection has been driven by the telecommunications industry rather than governments, even though many governments have declared cables “critical infrastructure.” Cables have generally benefitted both from their relative invisibility to policymakers and from the freedoms granted to them under the Law of the Sea. The International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), the organization dedicated to protecting the cable system, has tackled a growing wave of new threats — and not just climate change. There have been conflicts with the expanding array of other seabed users, from offshore energy operators to deep-sea miners.

The acceleration of global shipping means that more boats can drop anchor on cables in shallow landing zones. The disruption of cables by anchors, which occurs regularly, remains difficult to prevent, although redundancy in the overall system keeps these disruptions from being felt.

The ICPC, using peer-reviewed, evidence-based data, has also identified a number of potential climate change related threats, beyond the obvious impacts on coastal infrastructure. Laying cables depends on a stable sea. As chairman of the ICPC Graham Evans describes, “more vigorous sea conditions will influence cable laying and maintenance operations.” Greater instability in the seabed, whether caused by stronger storms or coastal flooding, could also disrupt networks. Human activities are changing with the climate, and people might begin fishing and anchoring in previously protected cable zones.

At the same time such threats have increased, governments have also begun to assert sovereignty more strongly over (and through) network infrastructure. These range from Russia’s disconnection test, to intentional internet blackouts (for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, among others), to the splitting of Yemen’s internet, to establishing internet exchanges to keep data local. Internet infrastructure is not only the medium of global interconnection, it is also a means of asserting national interests.

Even as governments attempt to influence and stake a claim over the internet, they rarely perceive the complexity of the threats that might undermine it, especially the threat of climate change to cable infrastructure. There is little coordinated effort among governments to shore up the ICPC’s efforts or plan for the security of the system as a whole. As a result, the vulnerability of cables to climate change and other risks are increasingly of concern to states as well.

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