FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

Summary: Whether it was legal or not, we might soon find out as the FCC launches an investigation after wireless networks were blocked in a portion of San Francisco's subway system.

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BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), one of the subway systems in San Francisco, asked wireless providers to block their signals to four downtown stations in order to disrupt a looming protest.

That move has gotten nationwide attention from everyone ranging from civil liberties groups to that constantly busy hacktivist group, Anonymous.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission is getting involved. The National Journal is reporting that the FCC has released a statement regarding the kerfuffle. Specifically, the FCC will be launching a probe into the incident as the FCC spokesman Neil Grace wrote that "anytime communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation."

This could go either way for BART. Either the FCC has penned this letter and will conduct an investigation just for the sake of doing so and looking like they're doing something about the matter, or they could make a bad example out of BART.

Signs are pointing to the latter, as The San Francisco Chronicle posits that BART's attempt to interrupt cell phone service was illegal, regardless of the method the transit authority used.

Nevertheless, BART is still sticking to its original story that its actions were within their legal rights, arguing that it only "temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform." Additionally, wireless signals weren't blocked outside, but only within four specific stations -- not throughout the entire system or even the Transbay Tube.

More protests, which will likely have more to do with these actions rather than the original source of recent protests (a fatal shooting involving BART police), are expected during Monday's commute.

Related:

Topics: Government US, Government, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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40 comments
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  • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

    Did they ask carriers turn off the towers? Or did BART have equipment that they maintain for this coverage?
    nt_gd_1
  • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

    "Whether it was legal or not, we might soon find out as the FCC launches an investigation..."

    My brain had to reboot after reading that O.o
    wendellgee2
    • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

      @wendellgee@...

      I hope you made it past POST before you got to:
      "Specifically, the FCC will be launching a probe into the incident as the FCC spokesman Neil Grace wrote that 'anytime communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation.'?

      and

      "Either the FCC has penned this letter and will conduct an investigation just for the sake of doing so and looking like they?re doing something about the matter, or they could make a bad example out of BART."

      EDITOR!!!!!!!!
      .DeusExMachina.
  • Reminds me of other nonsense

    This reminds me of Rep. Michael Burgess wanting to impeach Obama for something -- anything. Sorry, no matter how much you want it to be a crime for someone doing something you find inconvenient does not make it so.
    Your Non Advocate
  • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

    It would depend on who owns the wireless equipment. If its all private carriers then they could do it without a reason. I highly doubt these people really need to use their cell phones while on the BART system. Sounds like it was more of a privilege than anything else.
    Loverock Davidson_
    • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

      @Loverock Davidson_

      Wrong. Private carriers use public airwaves to provide their service, and as such, have certain mandates, such as providing uninterrupted 911 service. Failing to do so, and specifically disrupting the ability to do so IS illegal, and within the purview of the FCC.
      Yet another matter on which you opine with no foundation or factual basis.
      .DeusExMachina.
  • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

    --> "BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), one of the subway systems in San Francisco, asked wireless providers to block their signals to four downtown stations in order to disrupt a looming protest."

    If BART asked the wireless providers to block the signals and didn't actually turn on a signal blocker owned by BART, then there's no foul here. And if BART had credible data that indicated some kind of protest was going to occur that had potential to cause service interruptions and safety concerns for the traveling public, then more power to BART for trying to do the right thing.
    PollyProteus
    • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

      @PollyProteus When those Arab kids use cell phones and Twitter to coordinate a protest, it's "Democracy in Action!!!"

      When Americans use cell phones and Twitter to coordinate a protest, it's quite alright to shut down service.
      sporkfighter
    • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

      @PollyProteus
      Again, wrong. Why do you offer your opinion as fact on matters you have no understanding of? As pointed out to LD above, as a utility using a public resource, wireless providers are required BY LAW to do certain things, including provide uninterrupted 911 service. Failing to do so violates their contractual mandate.
      In particular, blocking access to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) of the governmental agency that has jurisdiction over the geography from which the call originates is a violation of the FCC E911 rules.
      .DeusExMachina.
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @deusexmachina <br>So in that case, the FCC would have a beef with the carriers who went along with BART's request, not with BART for making the request in the first place. BART is not in the business of doling out the wireless signal, so they wouldn't be the ones in a contractual relationship with the FCC.

        [edit]
        Retracted. Apparently, this wasn't a case of the carriers taking any action in response to a request from BART, but rather it was an action taken unilaterally by BART without obtaining the carriers' consent.
        lfmorrison
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @deusexmachina??

        You make a valid point about 911 service but I think it would also follow that deliberate interruption of a public resource even by private wireless carriers should not be the mandate of any organization for purposes of interfering with free speech. It's quite disconcerting that the carriers cooperated with such a request without a court order.
        techadmin.cc@...
  • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

    Local news reports that the equipment is BARTs cell phone repeater equipment...installed at the 4 mentioned locations. They did not block anybody's signal, but stopped boosting the signal by just turning off their own equipment.<br><br>BART didn't have cell phone service for over 30 years and they just installed the repeaters around 5 or 6 years ago.<br><br>No crime to turn off your own conenience equipment. <br><br>Since when is cell phone reception a "right" to be investigated?
    canddmf
    • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

      @canddmf

      And again, you are wrong. Why are you making declarative statements about matters you are not qualified to comment on? In particular, it IS illegal to block access to the PSAP of the local government agency that responds to 911 calls, whether the relaying equipment is your own or not.
      .DeusExMachina.
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @deusexmachina <br>So does that mean that it is illegal to build a large metal-ribbed building (which naturally impedes radio signals), and then choose not to install a repeater within that building? And if you install a repeater compatible with one carrier's standards, is it then illegal to omit other repeaters compatible with all other competing carriers' systems? How about later if another carrier comes along, are you breaking the law if you don't install yet another repeater that works with that new carrier's system?

        Would this apply to every metal-ribbed building no matter how small? Including every individual home that is built with a metal frame? Are they all breaking the law by not including repeaters compatible with every cellular service provider in the area?
        lfmorrison
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @deusexmachina??

        So, what you are saying is that if I, as a private citizen or business owner, set up a repeater that I physically own, once I turn it on I can never shut if off again? There has to be more to it than that.
        mlashinsky@...
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @michaellashinsky<br><br>The radiated power emitted from a so-called "femtocell" is so low that none of the FCC's categories of licensing for operating a broadcast station apply to them. So I would suppose it depends, to some extent, on how much RF power your repeater device emits.

        If the FCC does not have the authority to license or regulate the device, then they cannot have the authority to prevent it from being turned off if the individual who owns it chooses to do so. The FCC likely would have the authority to prohibit carriers from choosing to blacklist femtocells belonging to deadbeat subscribers, or to prevent 911 calls originating in a femtocell from being permitted to proceed through their network to the 911 call centre. But that's all regulations about how the carrier handles a 911 call after it's left the femtocell and entered the carrier's network -- it has nothing to do with the question of whether the femtocell was powered up in the first place.

        (AT&T calls its femtocell a "microcell", but that contradicts the general convention that a microcell has an effective radius of 2 kilometers. AT&T's "microcell", available for private individuals to install in their own home, has an effective radius of approximately 12 metres, placing it firmly in the "femtocell" category".)
        lfmorrison
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @deusexmachina?? Since you're so big on being "qualified", exactly what are YOUR qualifications?
        Lazarus439Z
    • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

      @canddmf Since it was provided to the public.

      There are certain obligations that come with providing a service and one of those involves providing 911 service. Once anyone takes on that responsibility they cannot just deliberately turn off 911 service. If the protest proceeded in spite of lack of cellular communications and it did indeed pose a danger to commuters, shutting off communications to 911 services would create some serious liability issues don't you think?
      techadmin.cc@...
      • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

        @techadmin.cc@...

        I think you have the smartest comment yet. Very good point.
        mlashinsky@...
  • RE: FCC launches probe following wireless blocking in San Francisco

    The 1st amendment guarantees your right to speak. It does not guarantee your right to be heard. Kinda like saying everyone should be allowed to have a radio show. I'm not sure the framers exactly had that in mind.
    kirschde