Washington, DC – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has begun formal consideration of whether to require environmental reviews on all pending applications to lay submarine fiber optic cables across coral reefs and other sensitive ocean areas. The FCC action was triggered by a rule-making petition filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an alliance of state and federal marine biologists, hydrologists and other specialists.

Citing a growing number of instances in which dredging, drilling and laying of fiber optic cables has destroyed fragile coral beds and fouled critical habitat for manatees, sea turtles and other endangered marine species, the Center for Marine Science, Oceanwatch, the Pacific Whale Foundation and other environmental groups have joined the PEER petition. According to the petition, the FCC’s policy of relying upon industry self-certification violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which requires every federal agency to review potential environmental impacts of its major actions.

A number of telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Global Crossing, and Qwest Communications, have signaled their opposition to the PEER petition. By contrast, two industry leaders, Tyco and Atlantico, have actually joined with PEER to help develop model industry code guided by an independent blue ribbon panel of scientists being assembled by PEER.

“The notion that the new information age carries no environmental consequences is a myth,” stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer. “From the Virgin Islands to the Hawaiian Islands, sprawling tendrils of undersea cables are being approved, with more proposed each day, yet no agency is taking stock of, let alone trying to minimize, the cumulative impacts.”

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