One of the biggest gripes about cellular service in the US is that the carriers’ year-long and longer contracts give the customer no way out if the service is less than adequate — say, as is often the case, beset by frequent outages.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can go a long way to helping consumers make an educated decision before they agree to a long-term contract. But it refuses to do so.
MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan reports that the FCC has maintained a detailed database of cell phone service provider outages since 2004, but the agency refuses to make the data public.
MSNBC’s Freedom of Information Act request for the data was rejected by the FCC, Sullivan reports, because “(r)elease of the information could help terrorists plan attacks against the United States, and it would harm the companies involved.”
Let’s look at each of these.
Sullivan writes that the “aiding terrorist” line comes to the FCC from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which decided that the “same outage data that can be so useful … to identify and remedy critical vulnerabilities and make the network infrastructure stronger can, in hostile hands, be used to exploit those vulnerabilities to undermine or attack networks.”
To the DHS, it appears, allowing consumers to know whether their cell phone will work when they need it is a greater terrorist threat than potential attacks on America’s public transportation systems and its ports, neither of which the agency has done much to secure. Terrorism analysts quoted by Sullivan think the DHS’ concern is bunk, and couldn’t come up with a single scenario where service outage reports would be useful to terrorists.
The second reason stated by the FCC, about harming the companies involved, is, in fact, an ironic and honest description of the FCC today — which is little more than a virtual rubber stamp for the nation’s major telecommunications providers.
The FCC’s argument boils down to this: Truth hurts.
A customer who knows that a certain cell provider experiences significant service outages is less likely to sign up, which, of course, would “harm the companies involved.”
Yes, truth hurts. And the truth is that it’s time to show the FCC’s Martin and his toadies the door.