The Law of the Sea Convention: Benefits for Submarine Cable Systems

By McAdam, Lowell | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Law of the Sea Convention: Benefits for Submarine Cable Systems


McAdam, Lowell, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Lowell C. McAdam is chairman and chief executive officer verizon communications inc. Mr. McAdam presented this testimony before the June 28, 2012 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the United States business and industry perspectives regarding US accession to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It is an honor to appear before you today to discuss the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I will discuss the ways that the Convention will strengthen protection for the global undersea cable networks on which our economy and national security rely.

My views are based on my more than twenty years in the telecommunications industry, during which I have helped build fixed and mobile networks in the U.S. and other regions of the world.

As a major communications company utilizing the international seabed, Verizon supports the U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention.

Verizon is a global leader in delivering broadband and other wireless and wireline communications services to consumer, business, government and wholesale customers in more than 150 countries and for all of the Fortune 500 Companies. We deliver these services over a network circling the globe and supported by more than 80 submarine cable systems.

Fiber-optic submarine cables are the lifeblood of U.S. carriers' global business. Aside from our land-based connections with Canada and Mexico, more than 95 percent of U.S. international traffic voice, video, Internet and data travels over 38 submarine cables, each the diameter of a garden hose. Without these cables, current satellite capacity could carry only 7 percent of the total U.S. international traffic.

Fiber-optic submarine cables are the international digital trade routes of the 21st century. And thus, any disruptions to the submarine cable global network can have significant impact on the flow of digital information around the world, with severe consequences for the world economy. As one official from the Federal Reserve noted in referring to submarine cable

networks, "When the communication networks go down, the financial sector does not grind to a halt, it snaps to a halt."i

Given their importance to global networks and the world economy, there must be an appropriate legal framework based upon global cooperation and the rule of law to protect submarine cables. The Convention provides this necessary framework in 10 provisions applicable to submarine cables, going beyond existing international law to provide a comprehensive international legal regime for submarine cables wherever they are whether in territorial seas, in Exclusive Economic Zones (or "EEZ"), on continental shelves, or on the high seas. Once the Convention is ratified, the United States government will be able to insist on compliance by other nations with these protections. Several recent events underscore the urgent need for a clear and unambiguous framework for protecting this vital communications infrastructure.

First, some nations have attempted to encroach on the ability of U.S. operators to participate effectively in the deployment, maintenance and repair of undersea cables. To oppose these types of foreign encroachments or restrictions effectively, the U.S. must have a seat at the table where it can enforce the Convention's freedoms to lay, maintain, and repair undersea cables.

Second, ratification of the Convention will also help U.S. companies better contend with disruptions to undersea cable service. For example, in March 2007, large sections of two active international cable systems in Southeast Asia were heavily damaged by commercial vessels from Vietnam and taken out of service for about three months.

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