Australia’s submarine communications cables carry the bulk of our international voice and data traffic and are a vital component of our national infrastructure, linking Australia with other countries.
Submarine cables are vulnerable to damage and breakage, which can cause serious consequences for the flow of information to and from Australia. Cable damage can cause data loss, significant delays, and severe financial loss to businesses, cable owners and individuals who rely on communication links with other countries.
Submarine cable legislation
Schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 sets out the regulatory framework for the installation and protection of international submarine cables landing in Australia. Under Schedule 3A, the ACMA may declare protection zones to minimise the risk of damage to submarine cables by prohibiting or restricting certain activities that may damage the cables.
Schedule 3A also requires carriers that intend to install international submarine cables in Australian waters to apply for a submarine cable installation permit from the ACMA. A carrier must also apply for a permit to install a domestic submarine cable in a protection zone. For more information, see the ACMA’s page on Schedule 3A Submarine Cables Legislation.
The ACMA has declared three submarine cable protection zones in Australia. Two are off the Sydney coast which have been in effect since 1 October 2007 and one is off the coast of Perth, which has been in effect since 1 February 2008.
For further details about the NSW Protection Zones and the Perth Protection Zone, including detailed maps and geographic coordinates and information about activities that are prohibited or restricted in the zones, please see the following ACMA pages:
Requesting a Declaration, variation or revocation of a protection zone
The ACMA has developed a guide on declaring a protection zone. This guide provides an overview of the ACMA’s approach to declaring a protection zone under Schedule 3A of the Act. The ACMA has also developed a guidance note on factors the ACMA will consider in declaring a protection zone in relation to a proposed cable.
General information on the ACMA’s approach to declaring, varying or revoking a protection zone under Schedule 3A to the Act is available on the Declaring a submarine cable protection zone page.
Submarine Cable Installation permits
Schedule 3A also provides for the ACMA to grant permits for the installation of submarine cables. A licensed carrier may apply to the ACMA for a permit to install one or more submarine cables in Australian waters. All international cables (cables in a protection zone and cables in Australian waters that are not in a protection zone or coastal waters) require a permit to be installed in Australian waters. A permit is only required for domestic cables if the cable is to be installed in a protection zone. Domestic cables to be installed in Australian waters that are outside a protection zone do not require a permit.
Detailed information about the permit application process is available on the Submarine Cables Installation Permits page.
Memorandum of understanding with Defence
The ACMA and the Department of Defence have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU outlines acceptable parameters for Defence to conduct operations where Defence practice areas overlap submarine cable protection zone. The MoU confirms the obligation on cable operators to consult with Defence prior to accessing the practice areas and ACMA’s obligation to consult with Defence on applications for submarine cable permit, or before making or varying any protection zone declarations.
For more information please contact the Networks Section:
Phone: 03 9963 6800
Post: The Manager, Networks Section
Australian Communications and Media Authority
PO Box 13112 Law Courts
Melbourne VIC 8010