A bill to afford Australian submarine fibre optic cables the same protection as fibre links to international locations is set to become law, after the proposed legislation passed the Senate today.

The bill was first introduced by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull late last year. The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Submarine Cable Protection) Bill 2013 will now be presented to the Governor-General for assent before becoming law.

It supports protection zones for domestic submarine cables to ensure the links receive the same protection as international cables.

Previously, only subsea cables connecting a place in Australia to a location outside of Australia were covered under Section 3a of the Telecommunications Act. The Act did not take into account undersea cables connecting two Australian locations.

The new legislation now means domestic submarine cable operators – such as Vocus and Trident Subsea Cable – will be protected from activities that may damage their cables, including the use of trawl gear, sand mining, exploring for resources, and dredging, among others.

Within these ‘protection zones’ such activities can incur penalties including fines of up to $60,000 and/or 10 years’ imprisonment for a person, and up to $330,000 for a corporation.

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