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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will review the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART) controversial new policy that regulates when BART officials may block riders’ cell phone service.
Last week, BART’s board adopted a new policy that sets a standard of “extraordinary circumstances” under which riders’ cell phone service may be intentionally interrupted. The policy allows cell phone service to be blocked only when the agency determines “strong evidence of imminent unlawful activity that threatens the safety of district passengers, employees and other members of the public,” BART officials said in a prepared statement.
While praising BART for responding to “legitimate concerns” raised by its actions last August when BART blocked riders’ wireless phone service in order to thwart an attempt by protesters to interrupt train operations, the legal and policy issues raised by the agency’s actions “are significant and complex,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a prepared statement.
“As the policy BART adopted recognizes, communications networks that are open and available are critical to our democracy and economy,” Genachowski said.
“The FCC is dedicated to preserving the availability and openness of communications networks,” as well as ensuring first responders and other public safety officers have the communications tools necessary to protect the public, he said. But, the reasons for interrupting the public’s communications service “must clear a high substantive and procedural bar,” Genachowski added.
“The legal and policy issues raised by the type of wireless service interruption at issue here are significant and complex,” he said. “I have asked commission staff to review these critical issues and consider the constraints that the Communications Act, First Amendment and other laws and policies place upon potential service interruptions,” he said, adding that the FCC soon will announce a public process that will “provide guidance” on the issues.