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For Immediate Release: May 23, 2000
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

SOARING NUMBER OF FIBER OPTIC CABLES GET FREE RIDE IN FLORIDA

PEER Petition Asks Governor & Cabinet to Assess Fees and Environmental Harm


Tallahassee - Citing a proliferation of unregulated submarine fiber optic cables along and across the Florida coast, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today filed an emergency petition with the Governor and Cabinet to minimize environmental damage to coral reefs and to collect fair market value for taxpayers from cable companies. Based upon internal reports secured under Florida's Sunshine Law, PEER accused the state Department of Environmental Protection of failing to protect barrier reefs, manatee and sea turtle habitat, and state parks from adverse effects of multiple cable undersea crossings, including dredging and drilling blow outs (called "frak-outs").

The PEER petition also charges that Florida collects virtually no fees for the use of public lands, particularly "sovereign submerged lands," for private purposes by the fast-growing and highly lucrative fiber optic industry. According to agency documents obtained by PEER:

* Recent applications have been filed for at least 46 new cables, in addition to the 20 current fiber optic cables, to be laid along Florida's coast;

* Florida is one of only three coastal states in the country which does not collect a fee based upon the fair market value of fiber optic cables which can generate more than $5,000 per minute in profit to operators; and

* The state continues to extend benefits to fiber optic cable companies as if they were state- regulated public utilities long after the industry was deregulated and despite cable access being limited to the highest bidder.

One recent submarine fiber optic cable application calls for a submarine cable from New York with landings at Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, Vero Beach, West Palm Beach, Sunny Isles and Miami Beach. Under the state constitution, the Governor and Cabinet are charged with safeguarding submerged lands "in trust for all the people" (Article X, Section 11).

"There is a new, electronic gold rush on the Florida coast and the state is not prepared for the impacts," stated Steve Medina, General Counsel for Florida PEER, who drafted the petition. "Now is the time to take a step back and assess the environmental and financial consequences before laying hundreds of private cables across coral reefs, state beaches and other public lands."