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Press Release Published: Apr 12, 2024

Oversight Committee Seeks Information on Commerce Department’s Efforts to Push Costly and Outdated Regulations on Critical Internet Infrastructure

WASHINGTON – Today, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is seeking information from the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) on its efforts to push costly, outdated, and unnecessary regulatory obstacles on the deployment and maintenance of critical internet infrastructure. In a letter to DOC Secretary Gina Raimondo, Chairman Comer outlined how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is pursuing an effort to impose burdensome regulation of undersea fiber-optic cables even as the Department is spending billions to increase internet connectivity and touts its efforts to streamline environmental reviews.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently pursuing an effort to impose costly and bureaucratic regulation of undersea fiber-optic cables traversing the area proposed for designation as the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) off California’s central coast. The Committee seeks to understand how NOAA and others within the Department of Commerce, most specifically the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, have examined and considered the need and impact of adding new red tape on new and existing internet infrastructure projects. Further, the Committee seeks to understand NOAA’s consideration of these concerns, the intention of the agency in creating new regulatory impediments, input provided by expert agencies, and whether the Department’s current actions are hampering efforts to modernize federal goals for internet connectivity across America,” wrote Chairman Comer.

DOC is currently managing $48.2 billion provided by Congress as part of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment and other programs aimed at expanding high-speed internet access. Undersea fiber-optic cables are essential as more U.S. households gain access to high-speed internet service.  Despite NTIA announcing new measures to streamline environmental impact permitting, NOAA’s Chumash Heritage NMS designation would add additional layers of harmful bureaucratic red tape that would hinder the deployment and maintenance of undersea fiber-optic cables.

“NOAA admits that undersea fiber-optic cables, once in place, ‘have generally not been shown to have a significant adverse effect on the surrounding marine environment as they are generally immobile once placed and coated with a layer of polyethylene, which is inert in seawater,’” continued Chairman Comer. “As more communities are connected and internet traffic grows, greater burden will fall on the global network of approximately 550 undersea cables. Accommodating these essential lines of communication through geographically diverse ocean routes is necessary to ensure that disruption caused by an earthquake, maritime accident, or other incident does not create widespread loss of connectivity for U.S. commerce, safety, and security interests. To assist the Committee’s oversight of efforts by NOAA, NTIA, and the Department on coordinating new regulations for the Chumash Heritage NMS designation, we ask for your assistance in facilitating a briefing that includes the perspective of both agencies and any other of relevance.”

Read the letter to DOC Secretary Raimondo here.