BART’s Cell Shutoff Questioned

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said criticisms aimed the San Francisco’s BART subway system have raised “very valid points,” reports C/Net. Bay Area Rapid Transit, said in an open letter to its customers on August 20 that: “BART’s temporary interruption of cell phone service was not intended to and did not affect any First Amendment rights of any person to protest in a lawful manner in areas at BART stations that are open for expressive activity.

The FCC is still investigating what happened when BART pulled the plug on cell service on August 11 in four subway stations in downtown San Francisco in anticipation of a protest.

“What the heck happened, what precedent does it set, were there any laws that were broken?” McDowell said at a technology conference yesterday. “Let’s continue with the investigation. We’ll draw conclusions after we have all the facts.”

Mignon Clyburn, another FCC commissioner who spoke at the SF forum, also raised concerns about the BART mobile phone shutdown. She noted that BART turned off power instead of using a cell phone jammer, which would have implicated a different section of the FCC’s rules.

Disabling underground cell service–a move more associated with authoritarian regimes than California cities–drew national attention and criticism.

WiFi Rail installed a proprietary Wi-Fi network in four underground stations in San Francisco, using “leaky coax” underground for WiFi service and regular APs topside.

Contractors also wired BART for cellular service. BART hired Andrew Corp. to install a neutral-host Distributed Antenna System that runs BART’s cell network. Five of the Bay Area’s six wireless companies have signed up to use the system. It generates a combined total of $1.7 million per year from cell-site revenue, reports Urgent Communications.

Washington DC’s subway cellular service differs from BART’s because the operators created their own consortium, led by Verizon Wireless, to hammer out the agreements and manage the networks. Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile are building, operating, maintaining and owning the new wireless network. Likewise, the Chicago Transit Authority recently allowed its fifth wireless service provider to lease its subway network via an operator consortium.

BART’s cellular system is owned by Metro, SF’s regional government, but built, operated and maintained by the four wireless operators. BART is unique in the fact that no other US railway has taken the underground wireless initiative in-house, says Urgent Communications.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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