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Lawmakers press for probe into Verizon's firefighter throttling

26 August, 2018, 22:58 | Author: Lawrence Cooper
  • Firefighters light a backfire while battling the Mendocino Complex Fire near Potter Valley Calif. on Aug. 9

A Northern California fire department says Verizon slowed its wireless data speeds to a crawl last month, rendering some of its high-tech tracking equipment nearly useless as firefighters battled the largest wildfire in state history.

After taking criticism this week for throttling a fire department's data speeds during a wildfire, Verizon announced Thursday it no longer will place restrictions on data speeds of first responders during emergencies on the West Coast.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department says Verizon slowed its internet communications at a wildfire command center three weeks ago, crippling the emergency communications truck's data speeds and forcing firefighters to use other agencies' internet connections and their personal cellphones.

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.

'This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services, ' Bowden said in a statement that is part of a lawsuit filed this week in a bid to reinstate federal net neutrality rules.

Verizon says it had "made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan". Ironically, it's Verizon's policy to remove throttling restrictions when asked by fire departments in emergency situations at no additional cost. It added that if another disaster arises, it'll lift restrictions on public safety customers. "This was a customer support mistake". We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward, ' the statement added.

Ars Technica details the email back-and-forth-starting in late June and continuing as the Mendocino Complex Fire raged on-between Verizon and fire officials, including one in which a fire IT officer begs, "Please work with us".

Flames from the Mendocino Complex fire burn a ridge, August 8, 2018, near Lodoga, California.

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"Verizon responded by suggesting the department upgrade Its plan by more than doubling its bill to "$99.99 a month".

Santa Clara County Central firefighters saw their internet data flow slow down dramatically.

The subject of the suit was a request from 22 state attorneys general and the attorney general for the District of Columbia to overturn the FCC's repeal of net neutrality.

He said agencies like his have a challenge: trying to predict how much data they'll need, and balancing it against their budget constraints. Under the department's plan with Verizon, speed caps might be hit if data use goes over 25GB before the monthly billing period ends.

Leaders with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which fights fires on millions of acres across the state, confirmed they haven't heard about any throttling issues either.

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.

He also called for increasing protections to cell towers in fire-damaged or fire-prone areas to maintain critical communications and warnings to area residents as well as first responders in emergencies.

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