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FCC Issues Order on Reporting of Fiber Outages PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 January 2020 10:44

In the Submarine Cable Outage Reporting Order (Order), the Commission mandated reporting obligations for certain disruptions of submarine cable communications. The Commission uses outage reporting primarily to aid government-wide incident response, public safety and national security efforts, and the analysis of network reliability trends.  Two associations representing submarine cable providers, the North American Submarine Cable Association (NASCA) and the Submarine Cable Coalition (SCC), separately petitioned the Commission to reconsider certain aspects of the Order.

This Order on Reconsideration reexamines and amends certain aspects of the required reporting of submarine cable infrastructure outages to better conform them to their expected uses.  In doing so, we seek to preserve the benefits while minimizing the costs and administrative burdens of reporting by refocusing the submarine cable outage rules on significant disruptions to submarine cable communications and those outages that have national security implications.  Historically, the Commission employed a voluntary reporting regime for submarine cables through the Undersea Cable Information System (UCIS).  That system provides a web portal for licensees to submit information about submarine cable operational status, including outages, on an ad hoc basis.

In contrast, communications providers covered by the Commission’s mandatory reporting rules report outages through the Network Outage Reporting System (NORS), a web-based filing system that uses an electronic template to promote ease of reporting and encryption technology to ensure the security of the information filed.

In 2016, the Commission observed that UCIS was largely ineffective, failed to provide visibility into the operational status of the majority of submarine cables, and failed to collect data in a uniform or timely manner necessary for the Commission’s purposes.  Accordingly, the Commission in the Submarine Cable Outage Reporting Order established mandatory reporting for submarine cables through NORS and decided to retire the Undersea Cable Information System.  As the Order noted, “[t]he operational status of submarine cables carries commercial, economic, social, financial, and national security implications.” The Order defines a submarine cable “outage” as “a failure or significant degradation in the performance of a licensee’s cable service, regardless of whether the traffic can be re-routed to an alternate path.”  The Order requires submarine cable licensees to report outages that last more than 30 minutes, or that implicate the loss of any fiber pair for four hours or more.

The Order requires that licensees submit such outage reports as a “Notification” within eight hours of a licensee’s determination that there has been a reportable event, which would transition to a four-hour requirement three years after the rules’ effective date.  The Order also requires an “Interim Report” within 24 hours of licensees receiving a Plan of Work for any repair, and a “Final Report” within seven days of completing any repair.11  The Order requires licensees to begin complying with the rules within six months after approval of the information collection requirements by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  As the Commission has not to date submitted these requirements to OMB for such approval, the rules are not currently in effect. Two entities, the North American Submarine Cable Coalition (NASCA) and the Submarine Cable Coalition (SCC) (collectively, Petitioners), filed separate timely Petitions for Reconsideration (“Petitions”), requesting that the Commission reconsider certain aspects of the Order. The Petitions requested that the Commission: (1) clarify an inconsistency in the definition of an outage between the narrative text of the Order and the Final Rules;15 (2) exclude outages due to planned maintenance from the scope of the rules; (3) grant licensees more than six months for compliance following OMB approval of the information collection; (4) exclude outages that involve rerouted traffic from the scope of the rules; and (5) raise the minimum duration for a reportable outage from 30 minutes.16  NASCA further requested that the Commission give licensees more than eight hours to file the Notification, which is the first filing required. Finally, Petitioners disputed the cost-benefit analysis that the Commission conducted in adopting the Order and the rules.

The Order requires submarine cable licensees experiencing an outage of greater than 30 minutes on a portion of a submarine cable system between submarine line terminal equipment (SLTE), or greater than four hours affecting a fiber pair, to report the outage to the Commission, including when an outage is caused by planned maintenance. The Order reasoned that planned maintenance outages nevertheless affect the submarine cable ecosystem and that planned maintenance outages are covered by the part 4 reporting requirements for other types of facilities.  The Order stated that there is “no unique, compelling reason that would cause the Commission to depart from its past part 4 practice of requiring reports on planned maintenance events that meet the reporting triggers.”

When submarine cable operators provide advance notification to customers of planned outages, the reporting obligation is revised such that it will be limited to planned outages where (1) service is affected for an additional period of time that exceeds the announced scope of the planned maintenance, and (2) this additional period of time, standing alone, would otherwise trigger the outage reporting requirements.  In other words, they modify the rules so that reporting for planned outages is necessary only if no advance notification to a customer is provided, or, if the planned maintenance event turns into an unplanned outage in which the duration of the unplanned portion is sufficient in and of itself to trigger the outage reporting threshold. If cable operators send different planned maintenance announcements to different classes of customers, the reporting requirement will be triggered after the event surpasses the shortest announced duration for the planned maintenance.

The Order defined a submarine cable “outage” as “a failure or significant degradation in the performance of a licensee’s cable service regardless of whether the traffic can be re-routed to an alternate path.”  The Order explained that by requiring outage reporting even in instances in which traffic is rerouted, the Commission would be better able to promote and advance national security and public safety interests.

In addition, the Order explained that reporting outages in which traffic is rerouted would provide the Commission with situational awareness regarding possible over-utilization of redundant paths, and would offer insight into the operability of submarine cables, enabling the Commission to better safeguard their reliability.

As explained in the Order, in “promoting and advancing the national security and public safety interests served by U.S. based landings and connections as a whole,” the Commission aims to assess vulnerabilities of the “total undersea cable environment serving the United States.”  In this respect, they found that the Commission and its national security partners, not the industry, are in the best position to determine when national security is implicated.  Accordingly, except for outages due to planned maintenance as discussed above, submarine cable providers must report outages to the Commission when the outage is unplanned regardless of whether traffic is rerouted, meaning customers have not been notified in advance of the outage and of its expected duration as described in the previous section. Therefore, the outage reporting requirement and the planned maintenance exemption now focus the reporting rule to capture outages with the highest probability of customer impact, thus retaining significant reporting benefits while reducing the burden on providers.  In particular, we anticipate that modifying our original outage reporting requirement, by exempting planned maintenance events announced to the customer, will considerably decrease the number of outages that will need to be reported.  Accordingly, when considering the costs and benefits associated with continued reporting as modified today, we find that that the national security and other benefits associated with this modified requirement, and the lighter burden associated with the modified reporting obligation, justify requiring that outages be reported even when all traffic is rerouted.