The Commission issues licenses to own and operate submarine cables and associated cable landing stations located in the United States. It also authorizes modifications, and transfers or assignments of existing cable landing licenses. Commission review of applications seeks to assure fulfillment of the requirements of the Cable Landing License Act of 1921. The Commission also seeks to ensure that where an applicant controls one of the necessary inputs of a submarine cable system (the wet link, cable landing station, or back haul facilities), the applicant cannot engage in anti-competitive conduct to the detriment of competing communications providers.
A cable landing license must be obtained prior to landing a submarine cable to connect:
- the continental United States with any foreign country;
- Alaska, Hawaii or the U.S. territories or possessions with a foreign country, the continental United States, or with each other; and
- points within the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii or a territory or possession in which the cable is laid within international waters.
Commission Authority: The Commission's authority to issue licenses derives from the
Cable Landing License Act of 1921 and the Executive Order No. 10530 of May 10, 1954. The Cable Landing License Act states that no person shall land or operate in the United States "any submarine cable directly or indirectly connecting the United States with any foreign country, or connecting one portion of the United States with any other portion thereof, unless a written license to land or operate such cable has been issued by the President of the United States." The requirements of the Act do not apply to cables "all of which, including both terminals, lie wholly within the continental United States." The Executive Order No. 10530 delegates to the Commission the President's authority under the Cable Landing License Act of 1921 subject to obtaining approval from the Secretary of State and such advice from any executive department or establishment of the Government as the Commission may deem necessary prior to issuance of a license.
Commission Rules: The current rules and regulations applying to Commission consideration of applications for cable landing licenses were adopted in 2001 and are contained in Section 1.767 of the Commission's rules. The rules specify among other things:
- the information required to be in an application for a new license or the transfer or assignment of an existing license;
- the entities that, at a minimum, must be part of an application for a cable landing license;
- the procedures for processing applications including eligibility for streamlined processing;
- conditions that are imposed on each cable landing license; and
- reporting requirements that, as a general rule, apply to licensees affiliated with a carrier with market power in a country at the foreign end of the cable.
In addition, Section 1.768 of the Commission's rules specifies notification and approval requirements for licensees that are, or propose to become, affiliated with a foreign carrier authorized to operate in that market, including an entity that owns or controls a cable landing station in that market.
Contents of Applications: Acceptance of an application for filing is subject to completeness of the application in providing the information required by the Commission's rules. Applications must provide the information required by Section 1.767 of the rules. The following entities, at a minimum, must be included as Applicants for the license:
- any entity that owns or controls the U.S. cable landing station, and
- all other entities owning or controlling a five percent (5%) or greater interest in the cable system and using the U.S. points of the cable system.
Applicants should be mindful of the technical and ownership information required by the rules, as well as the requirement to state in the application whether the proposed cable will be operated on a common carrier or non-common carrier basis. Proposed non-common carrier operation must be accompanied by information showing that the proposed operation satisfies the requirements set forth in National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. FCC, 525 F. 2d 630, 642 (D.C. Cir 1976).
Streamlined and Non-Streamlined Processing of Applications: Applications for cable landing licenses are subject to initial review for completeness of information and, upon acceptance for filing, public notice inviting comment. The Commission's rules provide for streamlined processing with action within 45 days of release of the public notice where the applicant can demonstrate eligibility for streamlining under the Commission's rules. The Commission will undertake to act on applications that are ineligible for streamlining within 90 days of issuance of a public notice unless the application raises questions of extraordinary complexity.
To qualify for streamlining the Applicant must send complete copies of the application:
- the Department of State;
- the Department of Commerce; and
- the Department of Defense.
Executive Branch Coordination: The Commission coordinates submarine cable applications with reportable foreign ownership with Executive Branch agencies for assessment of any national security, law enforcement, foreign policy, or trade policy issues regarding applications for submarine cables. (Applicants must identify any 10% or greater direct or indirect owners of the applicant.) Under Executive Order No. 13913, the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector (Committee) reviews the applications for national security and law enforcement concerns. In the Executive Branch Order,the Commission adopted improvements to the transparency and timeliness of the cross-agency review process for applications from companies with foreign ownership seeking to participate in the U.S. telecommunications market. These changes formalized the long-standing review process—known informally as Team Telecom review—and established firm timeframes for Executive Branch review of applications. 47 CFR §§ 1.40001 and 1.40004. In the Executive Branch Standard Questions Order, the Commission adopted a baseline set of national security and law enforcement questions for companies with foreign ownership seeking to participate in the U.S. telecommunications market.
Under the Cable Landing License Act of 1921 and Executive Order No. 10530, the Commission must coordinate all submarine cable applications with the State Department. For applications that are not subject to review by the Committee, the State Department has authorized the Commission to act on applications when the Commission notifies the State Department in writing of the filing of an application and the State Department does not object within 30 days of the notification. For applications that are reviewed by the Committee, the State Department has a 10-day review period that starts when the Commission notifies the State Department of the Committee’s final recommendation on the application and the Commission’s proposed final licensing decision, including any proposed license conditions.
As of May 2023, there are 85 FCC licensed submarine cable systems (either operating or planning to enter service).
All licensees of international submarine cables (those submarine cables that connect the United States with international points) are required to pay annual regulatory fees for the submarine cable system. Regulatory fees are assessed on a per cable landing license basis for submarine cable systems licensed and operational on December 31 of the prior year. For the purposes of regulatory fees, the Commission does not distinguish between submarine cable systems operated on a common carrier basis and those operated on a non-common carrier basis. The Commission conducts a rulemaking proceeding each year to determine the amount of the regulatory fee for that year. More information regarding regulatory fees is available at http://www.fcc.gov/fees/regfees.html.
Circuit Capacity Data
The Commission collects annual circuit capacity data for U.S.-international submarine cable systems pursuant to section 43.82 of the Commission’s rules. The Commission receives two types of annual circuit capacity data regarding international submarine cables:
- Submarine cable licensees must file capacity information for each cable system (i.e., available capacity) as of December 31st of the current reporting period and two years from the current reporting period (i.e., planned capacity), and
- Submarine cable landing licensees and common carriers that owned or leased capacity on a submarine cable between the United States and any foreign point must file capacity information as of December 31st of the current reporting period.
The circuit capacity data can be downloaded at https://www.fcc.gov/circuit-capacity-data-us-international-submarine-cables.
The following information summarizes the steps for filing a cable landing license application, including paying any applicable fee. There is an application fee for initial licenses (SCL-LIC), substantive and pro forma assignments and transfers of control of a license (SCL-ASG and SCL-T/C), foreign carrier affiliation notifications, modifications (SCL-MOD), renewals, requests for special temporary authority (SCL-STA), and waivers (SCL-WAV). There is no application fee for Landing Point Notifications (SCL-LPN).
For current information on application filing fees, fee codes, and mailing addresses (where the applicant does not choose to pay the fee electronically), refer to the International Bureau's most recent Fee Filing Guide, which can be found at http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/application-processing-fees.
Applications for all initial cable landing licenses (SCL-LIC) must be filed electronically via the International Bureau Filing System (IBFS) at www.fcc.gov/ibfs. Other types of applications – Amendments (SCL-AMD), Assignments (SCL-ASG), Landing Point Notifications (SCL-LPN), Modifications (SCL-MOD), Special Temporary Authority (SCL-STA), and Transfers of Control (SCL-T/C) – may also be filed electronically using IBFS. The instructions for filing these other types of applications can be found on this webpage under the section "Submitting Other Submarine Cable Filings."
Step-by-Step IBFS Filing Instructions. Before you start the application filing process in IBFS, you should prepare all required attachments, and be prepared to provide answers to each of the questions in the application. If there is no activity during the IBFS filing process for a period exceeding 15 minutes (once you have started the filing process described below), IBFS will log you out and will not save any information that you have entered.
Step 1. Go to www.fcc.gov/ibfs. You will be prompted to put in your FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password at the log-in screen. If you don't already have an FRN, click here to create one. If you already have an FRN, but cannot remember the password, click here to have your password reset or call 1-877-480-3201 (Monday – Friday, 8am-6pm ET) to speak with a representative.
Step 2. After entering your FRN and password, click on "Go." This will bring you to the screen entitled "MyIBFS Workspace." This screen is where you can begin filing any of the applications available in IBFS. To begin, click the drop-down menu entitled "Start New Application/Action”; scroll down to "International Telecommunications" and then select from the list of applications "Submarine Cable Landing License Application." Or, if you are filing any of our other available applications, scroll down to select the appropriate application. Next, click "Go" to the right of the drop-down menu.
Step 3. The next screen will prompt you to enter the Applicant's FRN and password which may be different from the FRN and password used to login. (In cases of transfers of control/assignments of license, you must enter the FRNs and Passwords of the Applicant, the Transferee/Assignee, and the Transferor/Assignor). In certain circumstances, some of these parties may be one and the same. For example, in an assignment application, the authorization holder will also be the assignee. There is a check box you should mark if the contact information is the same as the Applicant's identifying information. (Note that when you get to the application, you will always be able to edit the contact information whether or not you placed a check in the box. However, any information associated with the FRNs you put in cannot be edited in the application. You will need to go to the CORES website and login to update any incorrect information associated with the FRNs.) After inputting all of the appropriate FRNs and Passwords, click "Prefill CORES Data" to continue.
Step 4. After completing Step 3, you will be brought to the application itself. Identifying information for the Applicant(s) and the contact information will be pre-filled. You can change the contact information for purposes of filing this application.
- Be sure to complete the first field, top left of the application, which asks you to "Enter a description of this application to identify it on the main menu." This description will appear only on your "application management page" (described in Step 7 below) and will not otherwise appear as part of your application in IBFS.
- Item 7 – Please do not actually attach the Form 159 because everything filed with the application will become public information. The Form 159 will be submitted after filing (see Step 10 below).
Step 5. After completing the application, click on "Validate" which can be found at the top and bottom of the application screen. This will save your filing and ensure all fields have been completed. This does not file the application. Also note that, if you have not answered every question, you will not be permitted to validate and you will be returned to the section of the application that you need to complete.
Step 6. After validating, use the attachment buttons at the bottom of the page to upload the attachments requested in question 9.
Step 7. After uploading your attachments, click on "menu" (next to "Validate" on the screen). This brings you to your application management page, which should list your application as "Valid." (The application management page is entitled "Other IBFS Applications for [name of Applicant].") You can access your application management page at any time, after logging into IBFS, by clicking on the "Other IBFS Applications" tab located on the "MyIBFS Workspace" page about halfway down on the far right).
Step 8. To file: Scroll down the menu of "Form Titles" to find your "Submarine Cable Landing License Application." (Or, if you are filing something other than a Submarine Cable Landing License Application," scroll down until you see the application you'd like to file.) Then select the radial button to the left of that application. After selecting the radial button for the appropriate application, click on "File a Form" found at both the top and bottom of the screen. You will be brought to the screen showing that you've successfully filed, with your submission id number. Please be sure to keep a record of the Submission id number. You can use the Submission id number to locate your application and/or payment until IBFS assigns a File Number to your application (e.g., SCL-LIC-20150102-XXXXX. This IBFS File Number is illustrative of a File Number that would be assigned to Submarine Cable Landing License application filed on January 2, 2015).
Step 9. Press return to main menu to pay your fee. You will be returned to your application management page (see Step 7 above).
Step 10. Payment: Scroll down to find your application. The status (right hand column) should have changed from "Valid" to "Filed Awaiting Payment or Fee Verification." Click the radial button to the left of the application you wish to pay for and click on "Form 159 Menu" located at the top and bottom of the screen. On the next page, select again the application you want to pay for by putting a check mark in the box to the left of the application and click on "Continue with Form 159" (at the bottom of screen). Please disable pop-up blocker before clicking on "Continue with Form 159" as the next screen will be a pop-up. You will know that pop-up blocker needs to be disabled if you are brought straight back to the menu screen instead of another screen popping up asking for an FRN and Password.
On the next screen, enter the FRN and Password of the payer (again, the payer's FRN and Password may be the same as or different than any of the previous FRNs/Passwords used).
How you proceed on the next screen is determined by how you'd like to pay. The option on the left side of the screen allows you to pay electronically by using your bank's routing number and checking number. The option on the right allows you to pay electronically by using a credit/debit card, and the option at the bottom of the screen allows you to print the pre-filled Form 159 and mail it in with a check. Continue with the payment option of your choice and your application is complete.
If at any time you have questions about this process, you can call Adrienne McNeil at (202) 418-0412. You can also contact the IBFS Help Desk at (202) 418-2222.
Submitting Other Submarine Cable Filings
If you are filing an application to transfer or assign a submarine cable landing license or request special authority, you can begin by following steps 1-3 above. Once you have put in all relevant FRNs associated with the filing, you are brought to the form itself. Confirm that everything on the "Administrative" tab is filled out and correct and click the "Attachments" table near the top. Here you can upload the document which describes the application.
After uploading the attachments, you can file. There is a drop down menu near the top of the page called "Application Tools." Select "File" and click "Go."
After the application is successfully filed, you can go back to the "Application Tools" drop down menu to select "Pay." This will bring you to the pay screen and the instructions from here are the same as above in Step 10.
To submit other SCL filings electronically, such as a Landing Point Notification (SCL-LPN), Section 1.65 Notification, or letter supplementing your application in response to staff request, use the IBFS filing module for non-docketed pleadings, which is available at http://licensing.fcc.gov/myibfs/. Click on Pleadings and Comments, which appears on the left side of the screen under the "Quick Search."
Paper Filings: To file an application via a “paper filing” through the Office of the Secretary, send an original plus five (5) copies of your application to the Commission (see the FCC’s website at http://www.fcc.gov/osec/ for the correct address to which to send your application). For feeable applications, see “Payments for Paper Filings” below for payment information.Payments for Paper Filings: If an Assignment (SCL-ASG), Special Temporary Authority (SCL-STA), or Transfer of Control (SCL-T/C) application is filed on paper through the Office of the Secretary, electronic payment for that application can be made via the CORES Payment system either using your bank’s routing number and checking number or by using a credit/debit card. Please note that the Call Sign, FCC Code 1, and FCC Code 2 Boxes cannot be empty. Putting “N/A” in these fields will suffice, but you will need to email a copy for the payment confirmation screen to IBFSInfo@fcc.gov so that we can associate the payment to the paper filing.
Summary of Source Material
- Cable Landing License Act of 1921, Pub Law No. 8, 67th Congress, 42 Stat. 8 (1921); 47 U.S.C. §§ 34-39. Cable Landing License Act 1921.
- Executive Order No. 10530, § 5(a) (May 10, 1954), reprinted and amended in 3 U.S.C. § 301. Executive Order No. 10530 of May 10, 1954.
- Commission Rules: Cable landing licenses, 47 CFR 1.767; Notification by and prior approval for submarine cable landing licensees that are or propose to become affiliated with a foreign carrier, 47 CFR 1.768. 47 CFR. §§ 1.767 and 1.768.
- Review of Commission Consideration of Applications under the Cable Landing License Act, IB Docket No. 00-106, Report and Order, 16 FCC Rcd 22167 (2001) (Submarine Cable Report and Order). FCC-01-332.
- Amendment of Parts 1 and 63 of the Commission's Rules, Report and Order, IB Docket No. 04-47, 22 FCC Rcd 11398, 11414, ¶ 45 (2007) (Report and Order). FCC-07-118. Order on Reconsideration, 25 FCC Rcd 15706 (2010). FCC 10-187.
- Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2008, Second Report and Order, 24 FCC Rcd 4208 (2009) ("Submarine Cable Regulatory Fee Order"). FCC-09-62.
- Process Reform for Executive Branch Review of Certain FCC Applications and Petitions Involving Foreign Ownership, Report and Order, 35 FCC Rcd 10927 (2020). FCC 20-133. Erratum, 35 FCC Rcd 13164 (2020). DA 20-1404
- Process Reform for Executive Branch Review of Certain FCC Applications and Petitions Involving Foreign Ownership, Second Report and Order (2021), FCC 21-104.
- Commission Announces Department of State’s Revised Procedures For Its Consideration of Submarine Cable Landing License Applications, Public Notice, DA 22-435.
Other Relevant Materials
- Reform of Rules and Policies on Foreign Carrier Entry Into the U.S. Telecommunications Market, IB Docket No. 12-299, 29 FCC Rcd 4256 (2014). FCC 14-48.
- Rules and Policies on Foreign Participation in the U.S. Telecommunications Market, IB Docket Nos. 97-142 and 95-22, 12 FCC Rcd 23891 (1997) (Foreign Participation Order). FCC 97-398. Order on Reconsideration, 15 FCC Rcd 18158 (2000). FCC 00-339.
- National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. FCC, 525 F.2d 630, 642 (D.C. Cir 1976).
- Tel-Optik Limited, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 100 FCC 2d 1033 (1985) (adopting policies for licensing submarine cables on a non-common carrier basis). FCC 85-99.
Types of Submarine Cable Applications
- Submarine Cable Landing License Application
- Submarine Cable Landing – Transfer of Control of License
- Submarine Cable Landing – Assignment of License
- Submarine Cable Landing – Amendment of Application
- Submarine Cable Landing – Modification of License
- Submarine Cable Landing – Request for Special Authority
- Submarine Cable Landing – Landing Point Notification
- Submarine Cable Landing – Waiver Request
- Foreign Carrier Affiliation Notification