So, You Want to Lay a Cable: Going From Proposal to Permitted

Stephen Nielsen discusses the process of implementing a submarine cable system, from proposal through the permitting processBy Stephen Nielsen
March 16, 2020

I had a bit of a windfall lately. A new, previously absolutely untapped market to the submarine cable industry became open to the possibility of a new cable route in the Atlantic Ocean; the lost city of Atlantis is finally ready for hi-speed internet.

I won’t lie. I’m fairly new to the installer side of the industry, as I’ve mostly just reported on it as a SubTel Forum journalist. That said, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I immediately began taking all the steps necessary to get my first new cable project underway.

So, here I am, my system is designed. I have a tentative landing sight to link with a terrestrial system that feeds Atlantis’ largest city, the Council of Elders has my award ceremony scheduled, and I even have some real prospects for financing. Things are going about as smoothly as I could have possibly imagined and I’m hoping my new cable could hit the water in under 12 months. Then, suddenly, I hit the unique install challenge known as “Permitting.”

Now, I won’t dive into the minutia of the various departments of the Atlantean Oligarchy this ultimately involved. Instead, let’s talk about how this led me to finding out that my experience was hardly unique (besides the hitherto lost civilization).

In the international industry of submarine cables, each country like Atlantis has its own set of permits required for the many situations that can arise when planning a new system. Some environmental, some territorial, others financial. The big take away is that organizing all of the permits to allow a project to progress can take significantly longer than you would expect. In fact, system suppliers might agree that permitting is one of the most time intensive aspects of installing a new cable, even if it can be done concurrently with other aspects of the project.

The permitting for a new system can be time consuming and costly, even beyond the Pillars of Heracles. It needs to be included very early in the planning stages of a project to properly avoid any issues down the line. For instance, cables in the U.S. can be subject to multiple government agencies, including, but not limited to, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the EPA, NOAA, state departments of Environmental Quality/Protection, archeological or cultural preservation bureaus, or other local agencies. That’s in addition to occasions where new system projects are under the scrutiny of non-governmental groups, like environmental activists, or representatives of local populations.

To continue reading the rest of this article, please read it in Issue 111 of the SubTel Forum Magazine on page 46 or on our archive site here.