IGF 2018 WS #193 Submarine cables governance & sustainable development goals

Salle III

Organizer 1: Félix Blanc, Internet Without Borders
Organizer 2: Florence Poznanski, Internet Without Borders
Organizer 3: Peter Micek, Access Now

Speaker 1: Dwayne Winseck, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Robert Pepper, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Madory Doug, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Morel Camille, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Owono Julie, Civil Society, African Group

Additional Speakers

Fabrice Coquio, President of Interxion France SAS

Barbara Simao, Researcher, telecommunications and digital rights, IDEC (Brazil)

Philippe Dumont, Chief Executive Officer, Eulalink Cable


Felix blanc

Online Moderator

Florence Poznanski


Felix blanc


Round Table - 90 Min


Julie Owono, executive director, Internet Sans Frontières (Cameroun): she will address the issues of connectivity and human rights from the perspective of African countries. She will also describe how the governance of submarine cables is critical to monitor Internet shutdowns globally.

Robert Pepper, Global connectivity and Technology Policy , Facebook (U.S.) He will present Facebook's investment policy in submarine cables and commitments in terms of inclusion, human rights and sustainable goals.

Dwayne Winseck, professor, Carleton University (Canada). He will present his recent work on the governance of submarine cables and how Internet giants dominate the most popular internet services, the ownership and control of many core components of the worldwide internet infrastructure

Doug Madory, Senior Analyst, Internet Intelligence (U.S.), he will present his tools and methodology for mapping the logical Internet to the physical lines that connect it together, with a focus on submarine cables, and how it can help monitoring Internet shutdowns.

Camille Morel, researcher, Ministry of Defence (France), she will present her research on the vulnerability of submarine cables and how the French government try to find military or legal strategies to protect these critical infrastructures.

Alice Leonard de Juvigny, International Cable Protection Committee, U.N. representative (USA) : She will speak about ICPC activities at the UN and its role in promoting sustainable development goals, including climate change, peace & life below water.

Rafael Zanatta, program manager, telecommunications and digital rights, IDEC (Brazil), will present connectivity issues and new telecommuncation infrastructures in Brazil.


The round-table aims to represent a diversity between continents with representation of organizers/speakers from Latin America and Africa. Moreover, many speakers are participating in the IGF for the first time. Internet without borders is led by women, activists for equal rights and greater representation in the institutions, a great place will be given so that gender equality will be guaranteed in the final composition of the panel.

During the presentation of the session, Internet Sans Frontières and Access Now will present their current projects on Internet shutdowns and submarine cables. Peter Micek will present Access Now's numerous campaigns and tools, as #KeepItOn, which is fighting globally against intentional disruptions of Internet access, and a document with Human Rights Principles for Connectivity and Development. Félix Blanc and Florence Poznanski will present their project on the ELLALINK cable (Europe/Brazil), supported by the Getulio Vargas Foundation and the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI). They will also give a brief account of a CGI workshop on the governance of submarine cables, to be held in Rio on October 30, 2018.

We will then briefly introduce the policy question of the workshop , as well as the three issues that will be discussed:

1° How to promote secured communication, monitor network interferences, and prevent them from happening? Cables remain fragile infrastructure suffering from accidental or intentional physical aggressions (roughly 300 interferences/year), all of which are not sufficiently prevented from happening by international legislation. In Somalia, for instance, the cut of a cable in July 2017 has disconnected the whole region during three weeks and caused financial losses estimated to 10 millions dollars/day. The main international vehicles protect submarine cables and sanction peacetime attacks, before stating that no sanction exist to prevent them from being targeted in war times. Cable’s vulnerability are also due to their potential impacts on human rights and on freedom of expression in particular. They are infrastructure critical for human rights. Unfortunately, governments and private operators does not make transparent the agreements and operating conditions of submarine cables. The revelations initiated by Edward Snowden in 2013 (for example the Tempora program piloted by the Five Eyes alliance) unveiled the scale of unauthorized and hidden surveillance programs to public and revealed how important submarine infrastructures are to tap data traffic in real-time. But this chock wave didn’t not have impact on the governance of submarine cables. Building new cables avoiding the United-States, as planned by Brazil, for instance, is not a sufficient strategy to circumvent surveillance.

Questions: what kind of physical threats endanger global communication in peacetime and in wartime? What rules are necessary to protect these infrastructures? What role play the different stakeholders in network interferences? What cost do shutdowns represent for them? how to monitor and prevent them efficiently?

2° How to connect people globally & foster an inclusive digital economy? For the last two decades, Latin-America, Asia and Africa, and generally all the BRICS, have been passing through a request of huge transformation of their infrastructure, with the construction of new submarine cables, national backbones and inter-exchange points, linking Brazil, for example, to Europe and Africa. In 2005, the Geneva Working Group on Internet Governance urged international agencies to report on interconnection costs and fund “initiatives that advance connectivity, IXPs, and local content for developing countries”.The number and type of submarine cable system owners and operators has also expanded - including non-traditional carries and the GAFAM. The spread of undersea fibre optic cables has tremendous potential in terms of access provision. However, without a favorable context on transparency, jurisdiction and governance, their impacts on affordable access can be reduced. The majority of operators are still reluctant to offer any detailed information about their fibre networks. To have a meaningful conversation on Net neutrality, universal access and affordability, we need better data on current telecommunications network development.

Questions: What kind of actors own and control submarine cables (consortia; private cable; etc...)? What kind of legal provision (open access regime, monopoly)? What role for multilateral organizations (ITU, UN agencies, etc…)? Is it conceivable to create a universal, free, basic-rate Internet for all?

3° How to measure global warming & prevent geohazards? More than a million kilometres of submarine cables form the global telecommunications infrastructure backbone for business, finance, social media, entertainment, political expression, and science. Internationally, these cables are the physical layer of the internet. The dependability of this infrastructure is so important that entire national economies are affected when problems arise. These same submarine cables could also provide a platform for gathering deep-ocean and seabed data for a range of environmental issues. Our oceans and climate are experiencing global changes, including warming, acidification, and sea-level rise, that affect us now and in the future. A standard telecommunication system includes an electro-optical seabed cable with optical repeaters approximately every sixty kilometres. By adding environmental sensors to the repeaters, we could have access to a global network of real-time data for environmental threats and disaster mitigation. An early-warning system for tsunamis could save lives and prove invaluable, particularly for developing countries, where the comprehensive coverage of all subduction zones is not viable. Since tsunami waves often arrive less than thirty minutes after offshore earthquakes, every minute counts. To bring this concept to fruition, the international Joint Task Force of three United Nations agencies – the International Telecommunication Union, the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (ITU/WMO/IOC-UNESCO JTF), established in 2012, is working towards incorporating environmental monitoring sensors into trans-oceanic submarine cable systems.

Questions: what could be done to promote this initiative and include more governmental and private actors? how such initiative could be used to promote other objectives such as transparency, inclusion, privacy? In the discussion, we will find solutions to find common answers to these three different kind of issues and see how the different stakeholders can help at passing international regulation and good practices to achieve sustainable development goals.

The round-table aims to present the preliminary results of a research on the governance of submarine cables. In this sense, it is divided into two fundamental parts: presentation by the speakers and exchanges with the participants. First, we will ensure a good sharing of information to ensure that all people who are likely to interact with the speakers can follow our exchanges. Then we would like to facilitate the discussion to produce constructive feedback on the presentations, to improve the work and propose new issues of research. We will ask our speakers to highlight specific questions and explain their position on the different issues. The selection of the questions will be done by the moderators.

Some 400 submarine cables weave an invisible yet crucial network for our connected world. 1.3 million kilometers long, they are essential to the proper functioning of the Internet and account for 99% of intercontinental trade. International backbone providers play a key role in global connectivity in interconnecting national and international networks into a complex network of submarine highways, which make the Internet not as decentralized as it is commonly said. In fact, submarine cables belong to a few private companies operating without any identified regulatory agency or international norms. Both the consortium and private cable models still exist today, but one of the biggest changes in the past few years is the type of companies involved in building cables. Although submarine cables are an old infrastructure (inherited from the telegraphic network built since the nineteenth century), they are now sought after by telecoms companies belonging to content driven business sector like Google and Facebook that invest in their own cables to transport data autonomously. Newer cables are capable of carrying more data than cables laid 15 years ago. For instance, the MAREA cable between Europe and the USA is now capable of carrying 160 Tbps (terabits per second, equal to 1 million megabits per second).

Given that context, our main policy question would be: how could submarine cables governance help at achieving sustainable development goals? which regulation could make the governance of submarine cables more transparent, inclusive & participatory to limit network interferences, reduce the digital divide and enhance scientific research on global warming & geohazards?

In answering that policy question, we would like to provide solutions to achieve sustainable development goals through a more transparent, inclusive and accessible governance of submarine cables. We will focus on three specific areas: network interferences, human rights & peace; inclusion, digital divide & transparency; global warming, environmental monitoring and prevention of geohazards. This discussion follows up on previous workshops held at the Rightscon Brussels 2017 and the IGF Geneva 2017. We will also organize a seminar on similar topics with the support of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee in Rio, October 30, 2018.

Online Participation

The round-table will last 1h30. The first 50 minutes will be reserved to the interventions of the speakers and then 40 minutes of questions and debate. Those wishing to intervene must register during the presentations, explaining whether their intervention is a question, a contribution or a critique. Depending on the number of participants in the room and the number of people following the on-line panel, criteria will be defined for allocating the number of on-line and onsite interventions between the two moderators. Interventions of the participants online will be expressed live via webcam if the Internet connection allows.


First round (10h40-11h25): why are submarine cables critical for global connectivity and human rights?

Chair: Félix Blanc (Internet Sans Frontières)

Robert Pepper, Global connectivity and Technology Policy , Facebook (U.S.): Could you explain your strategy of investment in submarine infrastructures? How does it contribute to promote human rights and prevent network interference?

Camille Morel, PhD Student - Centre Lyonnais d'études de sécurité internationale et de défense (CLESID): Could you provide us with an overview of the geostrategic role of submarine cables? In such context, are international norms sufficient to protect  human rights in peacetime, as well as in wartime?

Fabrice Coquio, President of Interxion France SAS:  Why is Interxion crucial for providing access to submarine cables? How your activities contribute to promote human rights such as universal access or privacy?

Dwayne Winseck, Professor, Carleton University (Canada): Could you give us an overview of recent trends challenging the old map of submarine cables? What is the impact of private-public cooperation on human rights such as universal access or privacy?

2°) Second Round (11h25-12h05) : Why submarine cables are critical for promoting human rights in Africa and Latin America?

Chair: Florence Poznanski (Internet Sans Frontières)

Barbara Simao, Researcher, telecommunications and digital rights, IDEC (Brazil): What are the expected impacts of additional cables such as Sacs, Monet or Ellalink? Could you explain us IDEC national and transnational strategy to protect the rights of users on these infrastructures?

Philippe Dumont, Chief Executive Officer, Eulalink Cable: what will be the impact of ELLALINK on Latin American connectivity? How will ELLALKINK contribute to reduce digital divide and promote human rights?

Doug Madory, Senior Analyst, Internet Intelligence (U.S.): why are submarine cables critical for network interference? What transnational tools and strategy do we need to alert publicly on human rights violations operated on SCs?

Julie Owono, Executive director, Internet Sans Frontières (Cameroun): Are additional submarine cables necessarily beneficial to African populations? What transnational strategy is available to protect human rights and populations highly dependent on submarine infrastructures?

Conclusive remarks (12h05-12h10): Peter Micek (Access Now)

Session Time
Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

IGF 2018 Pre-Session Synthesis & Short Report Template

Pre-Session Synthesis Due: 2 November 2018

Short Report Due: Within 12 hours of when session is held

[sample report here]



  • Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.): Round-table


  • Title: IGF 2018 WS #193 Submarine cables governance & sustainable development goals


  • Date & Time: November 12 from 10:40 to 12:10

  • Organizer(s): Internet Without Borders / Access Now


- Chair/Moderator: Florence Poznanski


- Rapporteur/Notetaker: Félix Blanc


  • List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):

Robert Pepper, Global connectivity and Technology Policy , Facebook (U.S.)

Camille Morel, PhD Student - Centre Lyonnais d'études de sécurité internationale et de défense (CLESID)

Qemal Affagnon, Head of the West Africa Desk, Internet Sans Frontières (Bénin)

Dwayne Winseck, Professor, Carleton University (Canada)

Barbara Simao, Researcher, telecommunications and digital rights, IDEC (Brazil)

Doug Madory, Senior Analyst, Internet Intelligence (U.S.)

Discussant and concluding remarks: Peter Micek (Access Now)


  • Theme (as listed here): Development, Innovation & Economic Issues



- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion. [150 words or less]

  • Submarine cables governance help at achieving sustainable development goals

  • International or national regulation could make the governance of submarine cables more transparent, inclusive & participatory

  • Submarine cables are key infrastructures to monitor network interferences, reduce the digital divide and enhance scientific research on global warming & geohazards


- Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence.

Large consensus to say that international norms appear insufficient to protect human rights and SDG related to submarine cables (the 1884 Law convention does not cover many issues we discuss). 

There was broad support for the view that submarine cables are extremely important to keep traffic within regions, lower cost and improve performance and latency, but also that they are a matter of strategic interests for states and critical for human rights. Moreover, some indicated that the submarine cables are sometimes used under their capacity, especially in African.

Some supported that vertical integration from our devices and desktops from the apps and services down into the cables provide further evidence of the extent to which GAFAM attempt to rule the world while others noted that such vertical integration can be explained by the fact that CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg are personally involved in the fact that the last billion has to be connected. 

There was no agreement on the real impact of additional submarine cables on increasing regional connectivity and reducing digital divide in landlocked countries (Chad, Afghanistan) or small countries (Ecuado, Benin).

- Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps. [100 words]

The legal regime of submarine cables has to be updated to include protection of human rights and promote SDG and the IGF would be the perfect vehicule to support such initiative.

We need public networks to build additional capacity and public-private coinvestment to reduce the cost for everybody.

We need to prepare cable infrastructure for the next crisis (surveillance scandal, cyber security or terrorists) and promote substantive measures, standards and good practises such as the ELLALINK cable or the Ghana IXP.

Guiding principles on business and human rights could be used to put human rights and the users at the center of submarine cable instrastrures (cf. Article 19 report on Infrastuctures and human rights)

We need a global authority to adress these issues that are partly coming under ITU's competencies, partly coming under the UN SDG chapter. The International Cable Committee is not competent today to adress such SDG issues.


- What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue? [75 words]

The main issues the IGF should make progress on is the question of how the IGF could promote outputs and good practices at the UN level, so that each local and global actors could use these good practises to implement new policies more efficiently. 

- Please estimate the total number of participants.

60 people

- Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.


- To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion? [100 words]