Imagine a community with tens of thousands of residents suffering a communications blackout for more than 48 hours. Not only were residents unable to send emails or make phone calls, their banking system shut down, leaving people unable to make credit card transactions or withdraw money from an ATM. This is not a hypothetical. It happened last month in the Northern Marinas Islands, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific Ocean. The cause: a break in an undersea cable. While this happened on the other side of the world, it's a cause for concern for all of us. Undersea cables carry more than 95 percent of all U.S. international voice, data, and Internet traffic. Today, I'm circulating a proposal to my colleagues that would enhance the security and reliability of this key piece of the Internet's physical infrastructure.
There are approximately 60 submarine (or "undersea") cables that provide connectivity between the mainland U.S. and consumers in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as virtually all connectivity between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Many submarine cables are jointly owned and operated by multiple companies.
While submarine cables are vital to America's economic and national security, licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis, and the information that we receive is too limited to be of use. In contrast, other communications providers — including wireline, wireless, and satellite —are required to report outages to the FCC's Network Outage Reporting System (NORS).
Why are outage reports important? Think of the old saw about how "you can't manage what you don't measure." The data we collect from NORS has allowed us to analyze outage trends and recommend solutions to make these networks more resilient and reliable. We should do the same for these undersea cables.
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