Verizon throttles Santa Clara fire department's "unlimited" data during a wildfire

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In what are now substantiated reports that Verizon Wireless throttled data plans of firefighters while they were battling the Mendocino Complex Fires, California Legislators from across California are calling out the carrier and demanding formal action be taken. Further, in the event of another disaster, Verizon will lift restrictions on public safety customers, providing full network access.

Reyes also reiterated the company's position that this throttling had nothing to do with net neutrality-he emphasized that net neutrality had to do with content prioritization or de-prioritization, not data caps. In today's new statement, Verizon apologized to the department and added it has lifted all throttling caps for those firefighters, along with the emergency departments that are now dealing with the effects of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii.

In supporting first responders in the Mendocino fire, we didn't live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire. In the first case, during the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara, Verizon lifted the data cap in 20 minutes after the department reached out to a company accounts manager.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said his department's mobile communication center sent and received five to 10 gigabytes of data every day.

Firefighters were forced to use personal devices and other agency's internet providers to effectively communicate, and Bowden said data was only restored after the department upgraded to a new, more expensive plan.

Rather, the county had used up its monthly data capacity under an internet plan that allows Verizon to significantly slow service.

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A nationwide telecommunications company that slowed internet service to firefighters as they battled the largest wildfire in California history says it has removed all speed cap restrictions for first responders on the West Coast.

Verizon denies the slowdown was related to the lawsuit or the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules, which required equal data access to all customers.

A lawyer for Santa Clara County and its fire department told Ars Technica on Wednesday that it was important to highlight Verizon's use of throttling amid the net neutrality debate because it showed that internet service providers "will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety".

Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said the company made a mistake and "will fix any issues going forward". Those rules are meant to force broadband companies to give all customers comparable service, and many critics have insisted they would have protected firefighters' internet access. But Verizon insisted the data caps - which were a feature of the department's low-priced data plan - have no link to net neutrality.

Indeed, the legal brief addendum includes an e-mail exchange between Santa Clara County officials and a Verizon representative lasting more than a month. "For that, we are truly sorry".

He said agencies like his have a challenge: trying to predict how much data they'll need, and balancing it against their budget constraints. He said he hoped Verizon and other providers will provide assurances this will never happen again and asked state lawmakers to "harden our infrastructure to protect cell towers" against wildfires, which assist both first responders and evacuees.

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