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Contact: Harold Feld
On August 11, 2011, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), anticipating protests and demonstrations in its stations, shut down access to cellular communications, disrupted mobile phone and data service to a massive number of consumers for up to four hours.
Today, Public Knowledge, along with a coalition of other public interest organizations, listed below, urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to immediately find that BART violated federal law and to clarify that local government agencies may not interfere with access to mobile phone networks.
In the petition, the groups said, “The Commission must act immediately to clarify that local governments do not have blanket authority to interrupt access to [mobile phone] networks. Allowing local governments to interrupt access to wireless communications networks threatens the stability of the network, endangers public safety, and infringes the right of members of the public to access the phone system.
“The recent statements by BART directors, as well as the possibility that other local jurisdictions may act to interfere with [mobile phone networks] in similar situations, demonstrates that the Commission must not wait on the outcome of its investigation into this specific incident to clarify the law generally.”
The groups also noted that it has been settled law for decades that local government agencies have no authority to shut down mobile phone service on mere suspicion of illegal activity without due process.
The petition is available here: http://www.publicknowledge.org/emergency-petition-declaratory-ruling-re-bart
In addition to Public Knowledge, the following groups signed on to the petition: the Broadband Institute of California, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Media Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Media Access Project, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation.
Public Knowledge is a Washington D.C.- based public interest group working to defend consumer rights in the emerging digital culture. More information is available at http://www.publicknowledge.org.