Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
the Benton Foundation, Free Press, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, the
National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Open Technology Institute at the New America
Foundation appreciate the opportunity to submit this joint response to the Federal
Communications Commission's Public Notice of March 1, 2012, seeking comments on certain
wireless service interruptions.
Shutdowns of wireless service—whether mandated by government or undertaken voluntarily by
private parties—threaten public safety and the public‟s First Amendment rights, and violate
federal telecommunications law. The maintenance of wireless service during an emergency is
critical to the public‟s ability to receive and transmit information about the emergency, an ability
that is also protected against prior restraint by the First Amendment. Even the most narrow
prior restraint on speech can only be justified by demonstrating to a court that direct, immediate,
and irreparable harm to the Nation or its people will surely result absent the restraint, but any
wireless service interruption will inevitably restrain many innocent Americans' ability to
communicate. As demonstrated by countless shutdowns by foreign governments, such blanket
restrictions on speech pose a grave threat to legitimate expressive activity.
Wireless service interruptions, in addition to almost always being a poor policy choice and an
unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, are strongly disfavored by both state and federal
telecommunications law. Courts have consistently found that interruptions of phone service by
state and local authorities violate both statutory and constitutional law. Furthermore, the federal
Communications Act, in addition to forbidding network interruptions by government as a means
of censoring particular communications, generally prohibits carriers or other private parties from
interrupting or interfering with wireless service.
The Commission's authority to prevent wireless service interruptions is clear, and we ask that
the Commission take this opportunity to issue clear rules confirming that the federal government
will not, and that state and local governments cannot, interrupt wireless services as a matter of
policy in an emergency, nor can the carriers themselves or any private party.
To read the rest of the comments, click here.