BART head defends cell service shut-off

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Transit police had already decided to keep the San Francisco subway system’s wireless network operating by the time rush hour began Monday and protesters massed on the Civic Center platform.

It was a marked departure from Thursday, when Bay Area Rapid Transit officials cut power to the subterranean wireless network and quelled a brewing protest that relied on text messaging and social networks for organizing.

The disruption put the transit agency in the middle of a raging debate on free speech and safety. But officials said that’s not why police decided to leave the wireless network operating on Monday.

Instead, BART board president Bob Franklin said, disrupting service was viewed as valueless for a demonstration that simply called for protesters to mass at 5 p.m. and didn’t rely on moment-by-moment instructions communicated electronically by organizers.

“There wasn’t a need to turn off the cell phone coverage,” Franklin said.

Franklin said he supported the action last week but doesn’t see BART ever again shutting the wireless network to quell a brewing protest. That’s because he believes future protesters won’t rely on their cell phones to organize, knowing BART has the capability to cut communications in its station.

“I don’t see a need to do it again,” Franklin said.

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