Update on the BART Shutdown
After Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authorities shut down some underground cell service in a misguided response to a planned protest in August, CDT signed onto an emergency petition for the FCC to declare that such arbitrary network shutoffs violate the Communications Act. Subsequently, the BART board has quietly adopted a new policy addressing when it may turn off the towers. The policy contains some good language describing just how rare the “extraordinary circumstances” are that could lead to a disruption in service, and affirms the Agency’s commitment to “all state and federal regulatory laws.” But we remain concerned that neither BART’s policy nor a national patchwork of such statements will be sufficiently protective of free expression and the public interest in a reliable communications networks. The policy also leaves unanswered the larger question of what state and federal laws have to say about deliberate temporary disruptions. Indeed, no individual network operator’s policy could answer this question. This is why we and other public interest organizations have asked the FCC to weigh in.
The FCC issued a short statement calling the policy “an important step” and indicated that the Commission would begin a open public process to examine the status of temporary shutdowns under communications law. This is an encouraging step, and we look forward to engaging in the FCC's further inquiries into this important issue.