FCC seeks guidance on whether, and when, to interrupt wireless service

The FCC said late last week that it will seek feedback on whether, and when, government or law enforcement agencies should be allowed to interrupt cell phone services to ensure public safety.

The FCC said it is seeking guidance on whether it should provide legal and policy recommendations in the event that government or public-safety officials consider interrupting wireless services, and if so, what kind of guidance. The issue gained prominence last August after a decision by the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to shut down cell phone service in several stations to thwart a protest. Last year, several public interest and technology groups asked the FCC to rule on whether BART's actions were legal.

"Any intentional interruption of wireless service, no matter how brief or localized, raises significant concerns and implicates substantial legal and policy questions," the FCC said in its public notice. "The service interruption last summer drew sharp criticism, and state and local governments have recently grappled with how to address possible future events. We are concerned that there has been insufficient discussion, analysis and consideration of the questions raised by intentional interruptions of wireless service by government authorities."

The FCC is seeking comment on detailed questions about the pros and cons of shutting off wireless service, and while it is not considering new regulations, an FCC official told the Wall Street Journal that the FCC may provide future guidance on the matter. Comments are due by April 30.

For more:
- see this FCC public notice (PDF)
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article

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