Friday, December 07, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #85 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week #4: Why cell phones were out in the wake of Sandy

Consider this a sort of Footnote Outrage to the preceding.

After Hurricane Sandy, a significant number of survivors in parts of New York City found their mobile communications services were out of commission for days, at a time when communications were unusually important.

Why? Five years ago the FCC, responding to findings that communications companies had supplied too little backup power during and after Hurricane Katrina, moved to adopt rules requiring those companies to have emergency energy sources. The companies sued, claiming that the commission had no authority over them. Before that case could be resolved, the Shrub administration said the rules would cost the companies too much and the matter was dropped altogether.

So the telcoms in New York had no backup power because they weren't required to have backup power and having backup power costs money, which hurts profits. So the didn't have it. And the FCC is not even allowed to asked the basis for or the consequences of that decision, even though about a third of people in the US rely on mobile service as their only means of voice communication.

What’s more, the telcoms are now trying to claim a constitutional right to operate without any federal oversight. Verizon has sued in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, arguing that neither the FCC nor even Congress has any authority over its networks, claiming that the First Amendment protects the company’s “editorial discretion.” That is, Verizon is saying it's just like a newspaper.

This is even spreading beyond wireless networks. Last week, AT&T filed a petition with the FCC seeking wholesale deregulation of its wires, which if it was granted would exempt the company from all laws relating to consumer protection, competition, and universal affordable communications.

Where can this lead? Here's a hint based on something that's already happening: Apple has twice rejected an app that adds a location to a map every time a drone strike is reported in the media and added to a database maintained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which is located in Britain. It does that - and nothing else: It adds a location to a map. Apple says the app is "objectionable and crude." What's really "objectionable and crude" here is that Apple, which has received over $9 million in Pentagon contracts in recent years, has decided to censor political information. In fact, I'd call it not just objectionable and crude, I'd call it dangerous - and outrageous.


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