FCC Commissioner Warns Current Laws Allow Government To Shutdown Internet Access

Steve Scott
January 28, 2020 - 4:27 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — It’s happened in Egypt, China and even India, the world’s largest democracy: Government officials order a shutdown of the country’s internet connections and the entire nation goes dark.

But is such an act possible in the United States? Could the government decide to shut down American internet connections?

Federal Communications Commission commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says technically, it’s possible.

“The communications laws in this country largely date to 1934 and so their principles are applicable, but we have to figure out how to apply them to modern communications,” she tells WCBS 880’s Steve Scott. “There's a section of the Communications Act, that's known as 706, where it gives the president the authority to take control of wire communications and shut off wireless communications if there is a state of war, or public peril, or even just a disaster or national emergency.”

Rosenworcel notes “the language is very broad and it’s unchecked by judicial or legislative review.”

In a tweet, she says that “internet shutdowns are increasing worldwide” and the United States often does nothing about it.

“It's time to speak up,” Rosenworcel said. “While we're at it we need to update our laws too, because 47 USC Section 606 gives the President power to shut down communications without clear judicial or legislative review.”

The FCC commissioner says an internet shutdown could “stunt the democratic process, threaten human rights, batter economies and disrupt modern life.”

She says it’s happened before when India shutdown internet access to the Kashmir Valley for nearly six months.

While the United States cannot do anything to force those countries to return the internet access to their citizens, it’s important that America lead by example.

“I think in the United States, we need to develop some modern thinking about internet openness that is consistent with human rights and we've got work to do because we're seeing more and more of these shutdowns across the globe,” she said.

Rosenworcel adds the United States needs to prioritize fixing what’s broken.

“As we refresh our laws about emergency powers of the administration, I want to make sure that this is on the list of things to take a look at,” she tells Scott.