Proposed Legislation Would Impose Stricter Requirements on Undersea Cables After Facebook Fiasco

House Bill 2603 would apply higher standards on increasingly important trans-Pacific telecommunications infrastructure.

Facebook's botched attempt to connect a trans-Pacific telecommunications cable to the Oregon Coast has spurred legislation that would place more stringent requirements on such companies.

House Bill 2603, sponsored by state Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis), would require telecommunications companies to file specific plans with the state for the removal of drilling equipment and the cables themselves when they are no longer in use and make them put a financial guarantee in place to ensure the proper cleanup and removal work gets done.

The bill comes after a Facebook subsidiary, Edge Cable Holdings, encountered unexpected difficulties while tunneling from the unincorporated Tillamook County village of Tierra del Mar underneath the beach and seafloor to a point about half a mile offshore where it planned to connect to a trans-Pacific cable.

As WW reported in a cover story last year, the drill bit broke and the drilling contractor left drilling equipment, including 1,100 feet of pipe and 6,500 gallons of drilling lubricant, abandoned under the the pristine beach.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg Is Despoiling a Tiny Coastal Village and Oregon's Natural Treasures. The State Invited Him.

Gomberg, whose district includes Tierra del Mar, facilitated a 2019 meeting between Facebook and residents of the beachfront community who opposed the project.

He's more than disappointed with the way things turned out. "Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong," Gomberg says.

His goal in introducing the legislation is to ensure that telecommunications behave responsibly when seeking to land cables in Oregon, where the cost of doing business is lower and where regulation is lighter than in neighboring coastal states.

After its drilling foul-up, Facebook's contractor did not immediately notify the state, and it was far from clear what authority the state had to demand immediate cleanup.

"This bill applies the same standards for undersea telecommunications cables that we apply to other kind of cables," Gomberg says. "We need to make sure the proper protections are in place."

After a three-day delay because of concerns about potential violence at the Capitol, the Legislature will convene for the 2021 session Friday, Jan. 22.