Feeds

FCC ponders: When is it OK to switch off networks?

San Fran's subway axed mobe coverage during protests

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

The FCC wants help deciding who should have the right to switch off mobile networks, and under what circumstances they should be permitted to exercise that right.

Right now it's not clear, on either side of the pond, under what circumstances an authority can request a network operator shutdown part of its network, or if the operator is under any obligation to comply. So the FCC would like to put a proper mechanism in place, once it has found out how people feel about the question.

The public consultation (PDF, surprisingly concise) follows last year's action by the San Francisco BART underground railway which unilaterally decided to switch off mobile coverage to disrupt planned protests. That prompted many people to ask if cutting off the signal wasn't an infringement of their rights, and a risk to public health, but the BART stands by the belief that within its network it can decide who gets to make calls.

The FCC wants to know of other such instances, as there's no central record, but also how people feel about their mobile connectivity. Technically the regulator would like to know if network operators have the capability to disconnect everything except 911 (emergency) calls, or to cut off the public while leaving certain numbers unaffected – the GSM standard includes the ability to prioritise specific numbers, but not to deny service to the rest of them. But mostly the FCC wants to know who should be allowed to make such a request, and if network operators should be obliged to comply.

What's not being discussed is jamming, which remains illegal to everyone except federal bodies who are allowed to knock out mobile networks for the sake of national security. In the UK even that isn't permitted, with jammers being entirely illegal everywhere outside crown land (eg, prisons) – and even in prisons the legality is disputed.

What is perfectly legal is for government departments to ask nicely for mobile networks in specific regions (such as, perhaps, along the route taken by a Presidential visitor) to be switched off for short periods. Weirdly the UK government has the legal right to step in and take control of a mobile network during an national emergency, but only in order to keep it running: there's no provision for the government to shut down all, or even part, of a running network.

But nods and a winks and a voluntary agreement are very much the British way, leaving little room for public oversight, while the Americans are trying to set up a publically accountable mechanism establishing a public right to communications, and who has authority to deny the public that right.

The consultation is open until 30 April, and should provoke some interesting discussion. We can only hope that Ofcom might follow that lead at some point. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.