Nine public interest groups asked the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to rule that San Francisco transit authorities broke federal law when they shut down cellphone service to head off protests in train stations earlier this month.
The groups said based on precedent, the FCC should not wait for the outcome of its investigation to make a decision.
"The Commission must act immediately to clarify that local governments do not have blanket authority to interrupt access to [mobile phone] networks," they wrote in an 18-page petition. "Allowing local governments to interrupt access to wireless communications networks threatens the stability of the network, endangers public safety, and infringes the right of members of the public to access the phone system."
On August 11, in anticipation of ongoing protests, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit agency shut down cellphone service in some of its train stations. That elicited howls of criticism from civil liberties organizations and sparked an investigation by the FCC.
"We are reviewing the petition and are continuing our assessment to collect information about BART's actions and the important issues those actions raised," FCC spokesman Neil Grace told Tech Daily Dose.
BART said the shutdown was justified given the potential safety risks of protests on crowded train platforms.
The groups that signed the petition include: Public Knowledge; Broadband Institute of California; Center for Democracy and Technology; Center for Media Justice; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Media Access Project, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council; National Hispanic Media Coalition; and New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.