To land or operate a submarine cable in the United States, submarine cable operators must obtain a cable landing license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC’s International Bureau, Telecommunications and Analysis Division (TAD) issues licenses to own and operate submarine cables and associated landing stations in the United States pursuant to the Commission’s authority under the Cable Landing License Act of 1921.
A cable landing license must be obtained prior to landing a submarine cable to connect:
Applications for cable landing licenses are subject to initial review for completeness of information and, upon acceptance for filing, public notice inviting comment. The FCC'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 FCC's rules.
The FCC 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 State Department has authorized the Commission to act on applications when the FCC notices the State Department in writing of the filing of an application and the State Department does not object within 30 days of the notification.
The FCC also coordinates with other Executive Branch agencies applications where a foreign citizen or foreign-organized entity, including foreign government, would hold a 10 percent or greater direct or indirect equity or voting interest in the licensee.
In such senario, the Non-Streamlined Processing may be applied. The Non-Streamlined Processing involves an opaque and sometimes unending review process used by what's commonly known as Team Telecom (i.e., a working group of representatives from the Federal government entities charged with ensuring national security: the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, State, Treasury, and Commerce, as well as USTR and the FBI), according to the-then Commissioner of the FCC, Michael O'Rielly, who appealed for more structure on Team Telecom reviews, to prevent abuse and unnecessary delay.
On April 4, 2020, the President Trump signed Executive Order 13913, "Establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector," formalizing Team Telecom. In addition to others, the Executive Order formalized the long-standing review process—known informally as Team Telecom review—and established firm timeframes for Executive Branch review of applications. Under the Executive Order, once an application is deemed complete, Team Telecom must complete an initial review of an application within 120 days, and if the review reveals potential risks, must complete a secondary assessment within 90 days. There is additional time built in for particularly complex cases, where Team Telecom Members or Advisors may disagree.
During the Non-Streamlined Processing, the FCC may grant the applicants an Special Temporary Authority (STA) to carry out certain engineering works and/or partial operation in the territory of the United States. STAs are granted with a fixed expiration date, usually six months, or for the term necessary to cover a special event, etc. STAs do not have grace periods and are valid only through their expiration date. The FCC may grant extensions of an STA for a period of 180 days, but the applicant must show that extraordinary circumstances warrant such an extension.
As of May 2023, there are 88 FCC licensed submarine cable systems (either operating or planning to enter service).