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

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 …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Crystal ball time

    Police demand the ability to switch off mobile phones at will to control a disturbance

    Police (and fire/ambulance) switch to using GSM based phones instead of the latest underperforming and over budget radio system.

    Nobody notices this until the next major incident.

    1. Hyphen

      Re: Crystal ball time

      ...although TETRA is based on the same GSM technology, the cops tend to operate their own base stations which wouldn't be shut down in an event like this.

      It also uses majorly different frequencies, so wouldn't be affected by normal GSM/UMTS frequency jammers.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Crystal ball time

        Weren't they planning to dump TETRA and replace it with Blackberrys - or better still, with a whistle and a pair of tin cans on a bit of string?

        There was a great announcement in the US a couple of years ago.

        In the same week they announced that everyone from the New York Port Authority to the Girl Guides would be given the authority to shut down GPS to prevent terrorists using it if there was a threat of an attack.

        And a $Bn investment in a new secure GPS augmentation service that would prevent terrorists causing chaos by blocking GPS

        1. FuzzNChips
          Big Brother

          Re: Crystal ball time

          I am not convinced we'll be seeing the back of Tetra, Tetrapol and the likes for a long time.

          Yes, they are expensive. Yes, they are old kit which struggle to cope with anything other than voice and SMS. BUT, as someone mentioned already, it's their "private" network, which should work regardless of regular UMTS-GSM congestion or jamming.

          I know current (HSDPA, UMTS and the like) radio standards allow for number/terminal priorisation, but if something like the Nodnol bombings ever happened again, the security services are not utterly happy of having to share the band.

          Hence, for the 3gCops, expect to see them with two terminals or with some, even more expensive, dual Tetra-LTE (or whatever) terminals.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    to State sponsored censorship, where one day in the future they will spoon feed us what they want us to see, what they want us to know, what they want us to read and then give us permission to see it.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Really? I think you're getting things a bit out of proportion.

      If there is a terrorist outrage (such as 7/7) it's perfectly sensible for the telecomms network to be restricted to law enforcement/medics/fire/rescue services. I was there, literally, at Aldgate where I worked at the time, _everyone_ was trying to use the mobile network and it couldn't cope, that was before it was restricted to emergency services only.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


        This wasn't a restriction to emergency services in an incident.

        This was a planned protest against the shooting of an unarmed handcuffed citizen by the police on the subway. The phone ban was to prevent the demonstrators effectively organising the protest.

        It's like shutting down all the road and rail into London on the day of an anti-government march.

  3. jake Silver badge

    BART is private property.

    They can do what they like with comms within their system, just as I can withhold public access to my personal wireless system ... or even switch it off entirely on a whim.

    Or are you suggesting that my neighbors should be allowed to tie into my land-line on my dime?

    1. asdf

      Re: BART is private property.

      Wrong. BART is a heavy-rail public transit and subway system. Notice the word public meaning it was built with tax payer money.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: BART is private property.

        Trespass on BART property and you'll quickly discover that it's not public space.

        BART exists to provide paying customers rapid(-ish) transit from some points A to some other points B in most of the more populated areas of the Bay Area.

        It does not exist to provide Cell phone access. It also doesn't exist to provide a platform for protesters. I have never taken BART (my motorcycles are demonstrably faster), so I have no horse in this race ... I'm just calling it as I see it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: BART is private property.

          Jake, what are you going to tell me next that because I80 is a toll road going from San Fran to Sac they can shut down the nearby cell towers. Check that you acknowledge that BART is for paying customers and part of that contract includes not screwing with someones paid for mobile phone service. Yes even if they are providing the cells since they enjoy so many customers in part because of that service. How about if BART just says, "we're going to shut down rail service to X, Y and Z stops because we're worried people who may have a grievance toward us could be there and we don't want to acknowledge them"?

      3. hugo tyson

        Re: BART is private property.

        It may be that BART was built with tax payer money, I don't know or care, but the word "public" in public transit/transport &c doesn't mean that, it means it's *for* the public to use. Very little of the public transport railway infrastructure here in the UK was paid for by taxpayers, it was all venture capital.

  4. RonPaulFan
    Thumb Down

    Say hello to a multi-million dollar lawsuit once they shut down the service and someone subsequently needs 911.

    1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
      Paris Hilton

      Not if they prioritize numbers or allow emergency calls only. There's some areas around my stomping grounds in which cell phone service is provided, with really good strength, but only emergency calls are allowed.

      I would think there should be pay phones (I know, antiquated technology) still available, or emergency call posts, for situations in which cell service is not operating whether intentional or otherwise.

      Paris, nothing to see here.

  5. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Not sure the UK summary is correct

    To the best of my knowledge the Govt can ask the networks to switch alKulk(?) mode which prioritises specific sims across any network and ask the networks to close to normal punters for the duration of an emergency. Basically only people in possession of these sims can then make calls.

    Typical people in possession of them are emergency series and armed forces and more prosaically members of the telcos DR/BC teams.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not sure the UK summary is correct:ACCOLC/MTPAS

      Was ACCOLC but since 2009 is (Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme) in the UK. Hope that we don't need to try it! ACCOLC was screwed-up in 2005 with plod below GOLD ambiguously invoking ACCOLC whilst the needful didn't have the access tokens. source page 25


      lets dump 2G/GSM which is now as reliable as a chocolate airport(*), move 3G/UMTS to the now free 2G frequencies, throw 4G/LTE at the now free 2.1GHz channels and properly pen-test the 4G nano-BTS homeNodeB's before selling/giving them away! Might help to try a bit of cognitive reconfigurable terminals/BTS this time?

      (*) recent El'Reg reports of RSA2012 presentation on GSM A5/1 EOL crypto algo which suggest using an ***alternative communications methods*** to 2G/GSM when visiting SOUTH AMERICA, MIDDLE EAST or ASIA - thats rather a lot of the world and please let me know, other than carrier pigeon what are small portable reliable alternative communications systems? eh?? just sayin'

  6. David Hicks


    Seriously, they shut off the network to try and disrupt protests? When did the powers that be take on this siege mentality? Why must people be stopped protesting?

    Suppressing protest *just because* seems to be the way to go at the moment. that and sending the police in with non-lethal weapons and kettling techniques. It's no surprise that these thing occasionally go wrong and end in confrontations and property damage - the authorities consider protest to be wrong and the police seem to be bristling for a fight.

    You know, except when it comes to stuff like the London riots last year, where there's the actual chance of someone other than pacifist hippies getting involved in a dust-up, and there's not an officer to be found for miles.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sickening

      Yes, but: There are apps (covered on El Reg recently) which allow protesters to co-ordinate against police, I think it's perfectly reasonable to require a power (with proper oversite) to turn off mobile networks if a protest is on the verge of riot.

      It's pretty well covered that the Blackberry instant messenger network was used to co-ordinate the riots in the UK during the summer.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Eddy Ito

    Just sayin'

    Perhaps the FCC could do something like read the Constitution and proceed to ask themselves where they are granted the right to infringe the right to freedom of speech and perhaps the right to peaceably assemble (I'm talking to you BART), you know the First Amendment.

    After that they could go on to examine the Fifth Amendment and ponder whether depriving someone the use of property and the necessary services to make it function, both of which have been duly paid for, and without any consideration to due process would run afoul of the words "No person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;" It seems to me that there is a likely violation of the liberty and property part of that particular passage.

    No, no, the FCC wants instead to run it up the flagpole and see who salutes just in because they feel a power grab done in the open and with the apparent consent of "the public" is better than the shady deal the NSA typically does.

    Not AC because I want them to know I'll be happy to call them out any time.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Just sayin'

      1) They are not infringing on the freedom of speech. They are choosing how people can use BART supplied equipment on BART property.

      2) Cells weren't usable in the BART "Underground" until BART chose to install the equipment to make it work. At BART's expense. This was to attract riders, not protesters. With the protesters driving away riders in droves, why should BART pay good money to foot the electricity bill to help people who were cutting into BART's bottom line? I sure as hell wouldn't!

      3) Read the fine print in your Cell contract (which is between you (or your parental unit(s)) and the telco, not between you and BART). Nowhere does it guarantee the device will work everywhere. Quite the contrary, in fact. Nor does BART guarantee that cellphones will work all over their system.

      3a) You do realize that there are large areas of the San Francisco Bay Area where cellphones don't work, right? Even in Silly Con Valley. Try Steven's Creek Canyon. Or try to maintain a call between Saratoga & Los Gatos. Or between Portola Valley & Woodside. Highway 280 has large sections with no reception. Going to sue if you get into trouble in those spots?

      4) You're never AC here on ElReg. You just think you are.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just sayin'

        4) I'm AC from the people who aren't doing pervasive deep packet inspection! er- yes, I see your point! On the other hand, El'Reg as data controller of my PI would shirley delete my personal AC database of posts within the 2 or is it 7 years, though concievably my datagram packets might possibly transit through the Swedish Titan database and similar so that's all the partners storing everything forever

        GSM/FCC/BART/anyone: switching things off attracts too much attention and acts as a rallying point for whichever opposition, a properly designed system would have a slow foldover degrade button

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Just sayin'

          "switching things off attracts too much attention and acts as a rallying point for whichever opposition"

          Whole 'nuther kettle of worms.

      2. Eddy Ito

        Re: Just sayin' @jake

        I don't understand is why you're hung up on cell contracts, BART and suing over a lack of infrastructure but I'll try by looking back over your previous posts. Here's the problem, BART is a government entity and they can't do what they want on "their" property because BART doesn't own property, the government does. Their board of directors are publicly elected officials. The BART police are real police and not security guards. They don't have a "bottom line" because they are a government entity and as such they are accountable to the public. What's more, even if they were private they still don't have a right to infringe the First Amendment, all they can do is have the police remove you from the property.

        Here's a small hint, their website is and if you go there you can find out all sorts of interesting facts like the cost to build BART was $1.619B and of that >$1.4B was paid by taxes and tolls not private investment. Granted you could be confused since new stadiums being built by teams such as the Washington Nationals were majorly funded by taxpayer dollars but remain private property but that has more to do with stupid pols than anything else.

        Oh, perhaps your parental units, as you kids apparently like to call them, didn't get you up in time and you missed the civics class when they were teaching the difference between private property and publicly owned government property which may or may not be have restricted access. It isn't private property any more than the Humvees and MRAPs down the road at Camp Pendleton are private property or for that matter Camp Pendleton itself. Yeah, I know, try trespassing there even though the property is publicly owned.

        Finally the only obvious reason for the government, specifically the FCC which was the primary target of my original post, to "turn off" mobile access is the same reason Libya turned off mobile access. Due process, that's all I'm really asking for.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When is it OK? - almost never

    Mobile networks are becoming more and more essential to normal life and it seems reasonable to conclude that significant loss of communications should be seen as a threat to the health and well-being of all of society (and not just a problem for the emergency services). The authorities' prime duty should be to keep mobile networks up and it would (to my mind) be correct for them to treat any attempt to take the networks down as if it were a terrorist threat.

    If this interpretation is accepted then it is clear that the authorities should only block mobile communications if it is necessary to forestall a real and imminent threat of loss of life or a greater loss of communications. If the criteria for action were any less, then the authorities would be in danger of becoming a problem themselves and of handing terrorists and assorted mischief-makers an easy route to achieving significant impacts.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: When is it OK? - almost never

      Strawman, JustaKOS.

      If your cellphone is "essential to your life", what are you doing on a BART platform during a well-publicized demonstration? Don't you have more important things to worry about when you are out & about? ... The first thing that comes to mind is a radio link that guarantees service, unlike your cell contract.

      And again, please note that BART chose to unplug BARTs equipment. It had nothing to do with $TELCO or .gov ...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @jake - "strawman?"

    I had to look up the definition of "strawman" - this is the first time I've been accused of putting forward a strawman argument.

    I wouldn't say that is right on account of the fact that I wasn't arguing against anyone, merely responding to the question "who should have the right to switch off mobile networks, and under what circumstances they should be permitted to exercise that right". Just expressing an opinion.

    I don't worry about my personal mobile connectivity (as I've posted on the Channel Tunnel stories) and, being a Brit, I don't care much about what happens on BART - note that I didn't mention it - but I'm inclined to agree with what you have said on that subject.

    My point was about the general reliance on mobile communications as a part of the infrastructure of society. Of course, if I've got it wrong and society will function just as well if the networks are taken down, then my opinions are flawed.

    But if I haven't got it wrong, then I am arguing that the authorities should be very careful in their use of such powers.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: @jake - "strawman?"

      Yes, strawman.

      I function quite nicely without constant radio contact with the rest of the planet. My cell is only powered on when I need it.

      I find it quite astonishing that adults have been sold on electronic blankies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @jake - "strawman?"

        I'm getting tired of playing 'hunt the strawman'.

        I too function quite nicely without mobile contact and am also astonished how so many have been sold on the need for these things.

        If all public mobile communication is frivolous, then who cares what FCC allows? But is it all frivolous? If the answer is 'no' then there is a need to constrain the ability to turn off networks.

      2. David Hicks

        Re: @jake - "strawman?"

        None of which makes any of the previous argument a straw man, you idiot.

        A straw man fallacy is the construction of a synthetic argument, characterising (inaccurately) your opponent's position, such that you can easily knock it down.

        Answering a question, even if you feel the answer is incorrect, is not a straw man.

  10. Nameless Faceless Computer User

    I've heard this argument before

    He who can destroy a thing controls that thing.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022