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ICPC rallies government to prioritise subsea connectivity amid Covid-19 outbreak

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The International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) is calling on governments and industry to facilitate and expedite the deployment, operation, and repair of subsea cables during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The call by the ICPC seeks to protect internet connectivity as well as the governance, health, education, and commerce that reply on it to operate.

According to the group, the continuing the installation and repair of subsea cables during the pandemic is vital due to the even greater importance as it enables electronic and online engagement that help minimise disease exposure and transmission.

This includes; telework, online meetings and video conferencing, tele-medicine for Covid-19 and other health issues, and communications with family members and friends, to name a few.

In total ICPC estimates that internet traffic has increased between 25% and 50%, depending on geographic region, since November 2019 and that it will only increase further.

As a result, the quick repair of existing subsea cables and the building of new cables to meet the growing increases in internet traffic are needed to avoid service disruption, degradation, and slower speeds.

The case also points to the continuing cross-border operations as most of the world depends on foreign-flagged cable and survey ships with expert multi-national crews to install and maintain submarine cables.

Specifically, ICPC recommends that both governments and industry implement the following measure which reflect the International Maritime Organization (IMO) best practices. General measures include:

  • Provide accreditation of, and access for, submarine cable industry personnel on land and on ships to ensure they are not unreasonably confined or detained

  • Designate submarine cable manufacturing, installation, and repair, including related ship-based activities, as essential economic activities authorised to operate under even the most stringent shelter-in-place and border and port controls

  • Designate submarine cable industry personnel, regardless of nationality—including manufacturing, seafarer, and marine personnel—and port personnel—as essential employees authorised to work and travel

  • Permit importation, transport, and sale of otherwise unrestricted telecommunications network equipment, spare plant, and repair tools, including items stored in bonded warehouses

  • Expedite licences and permits, and grant temporary waivers, to speed installation of new submarine cables and repairs of existing ones

  • Continue to enforce cable protection laws and measures to minimise the risk of cable damage and disruption of communications in the first instance

Lastly, the ICPC suggests that recognise and abide by the provisions of the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations. The convention asks governments to ‘reduce or remove regulatory barriers to the use of telecommunication resources of disaster mitigation and relief,’ including ‘regulations restricting the movement of personnel who operate telecommunication equipment or who are essential to its effective use.’