Yesterday’s action where the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area Rapid System took the step of interrupting or blocking cell phone service has increased from the first blog post on this, the one in this space, charging that BART’s act was not legal, to a much Twitter-tweeted matter where BART’s action was consistently said not to be legal.
While BART charges that the action was legal, but has not given concrete evidence to support the claim as of this writing (and this blogger has called BART), a look at recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) actions shows that BART’s response to the feared protest was not illegal.
According to sources, BART’s complaint about what this blogger installed rests on the idea that it did not use a cell phone jamming device, but simply turned off the cell phone antenna system serving certain San Francisco BART stations.
That was not my point.
My point is that, according to a number of online sources, BART’s attempt to interrupt cell phone service is not legal, not that the method that was used was illegal. The FCC is not concerned with method, so much as intent and result of an action like the one BART took.
For example, Ibtimes reports that on February 26, 2011 in Silver Springs, Maryland:
The FCC is investigating the possibility that a Verizon service blackout prevented subscribers from connecting 911 calls and reaching the local fire department. The inability to complete the calls may have resulted in the destruction of Maryland woman’s house…Many residents of Maryland’s Montgomery and Price George’s counties experienced similar disruptions of service, and the FCC is attempting to figure out the cause.
Verizon did not respond to inquiries by the police in the area. But what this proves is the Federal Communications Commission does not give a pass to an organization responsible for a cell phone outage because it’s a carrier, or because the organization didn’t use a cell phone jamming system to interrupt service.
The BART action also interrupted any 911 calls that may have been made from cell phones in that part of the BART System that was the focus of the cell phone antenna shut off. That act alone, given FCC history this year in the Maryland case, should trigger an inquiry into BART actions.
The FCC and Network Outage
“Network Outage” is one of the FCC’s greatest concerns, and the agency “regulations require that the provider – usually the company to whom the customer pays – tell customers their service is going to go dark,” according to the GTowntimes.com on December 16, 2010.
In the matter investigated by GTowntimes.com last year, thousands of people in Georgetown County suffered what was called a blackout for both phone and Internet service. BART told SFAppeal that they had help from the carriers to execute the cell phone service interruption, but that public relations ‘buck passing’ may come back to haunt the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, because FCC rules read “You must notify your customers in writing as far in advance as possible if you are going to discontinue, reduce or impair domestic service for any reason,” even for bankruptcy, which isn’t the issue in the BART case.
The bottom line is the rules placed in the Communications Act of 1934 are clear, and the FCC gives little “wiggle room” in the enforcement of the act.
If you were a victim of the BART action and wish to file a complaint with the FCC, here’s how you do it:
To file a complaint alerting the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, please visit www.fcc.gov/complaints or call 1-888-CALL-FCC.
Not Picking Sides
As I stated on the Rick Smith radio show based out of Pennsylvania this evening, I’m not a writer – activist, but a blogger – a video blogger. I’m not employed by the SF Chronicle or Hearst, and I don’t pretend that the editors tell me what to cover. I have my own company – Zennie62Media.
Moreover, I don’t specifically side with the actions of the protesters just because I point to BART’s mistakes and actions that seem to flout the law. Both BART and the protesters are wrong, and because their warring actions against each other have escalated to impact the lives of innocent people in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This must stop.
The protesters should file a lawsuit against BART, and raise money to start a political action committee, rather than stop train service and harm parents trying to get to their kids’ babysitters. BART should not seek to block cell phone use for all because of the feared actions of the protesters and of an event that never happened. Both BART and the protest group are not winning allies one bit.
What will happen, if this war goes on, is that nothing will really change, except now the FCC will eventually look at the BART action and render a decision. That’s not a feather in the cap of the protesters. Indeed, it’s really terrible this happened at all.
What consistently goes through my mind is that BART never explained why its computer network went down on Tuesday, and that could have happened at the same moment on Thursday when BART threw the “kill switch” on cell phone service. Imagine being in the BART Tube when that happened, and an earthquake of 4 or larger hit, at that point in time.
That’s not a scenario BART wants to be unprepared for, yet unprepared for that possibility was what BART was on Thursday night.