Monday, 22 October, 2018

Verizon throttled California firefighters' internet speeds amid blaze

Utah firefighter Matt Burchett 42 who died fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in California is honored in Salt Lake City on Aug. 15. Burchett was hit by a falling tree Verizon throttles Santa Clara fire department's "unlimited" data during a wildfire
Beatrice Douglas | 27 August, 2018, 14:57

The company throttled the department's service as they were still battling the Mendocino Complex Fire because it had reached its data limit for the month. "We had a customer who, in the terms of their agreement, had reached the 25 gigs of data".

"The FTC must investigate whether Verizon and other communications companies are being unfair or deceptive in the services they're offering to public safety entities, and if so, to determine what remedies are appropriate to ensure our first responders have adequate service when lives are on the line".

Some say the issue highlights concerns of net-neutrality supporters, that allowing companies to manipulate their networks can have adverse, unexpected consequences. But in this case, the firefighters were told they needed to switch to a plan that cost more than double what they were now paying before normal data service would be restored, according to court documents filed Tuesday in an ongoing legal battle over net neutrality.

On Friday, Verizon announced in a statement (https://www.verizon.com/about/news/verizon-statement-california-wildfires-and-hurricane-lane-hawaii) that it will temporarily stop all throttling on service for first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii, to support firefighting efforts and the response to Hurricane Lane.

The fire department has an unlimited government plan with Verizon, but the company slowed, or throttled, data speed once the agency reached a certain threshold, Bowden wrote in an August 20 court filing.

She said the Santa Clara County fire department initially encountered the throttling because it had subscribed to an unlimited data plan for government agencies that reduces speeds after a certain allotment of data is used.

Verizon said that it would be introducing a new data plan for first responders that doesn't include throttling after an ensuing uproar. I was able to work through Eric Prosser at the time to have service to the device restored and Eric communicated that Verizon had properly re-categorized the device as truly "unlimited".

In his testimony, Bowden said the Mendocino Complex Fire was the third time since December 2017 where his department was throttled.


Because the Santa Clara County Fire Department covers seven cities and a large portion of the Santa Cruz mountains, it now buys service from both Verizon and AT&T to increase redundancy in coverage areas.

After realizing that the unit's data connection was being throttled by Verizon, Bowden's technology staff members emailed Verizon, requesting that it end the throttling immediately in the interest of public safety, he wrote.

In its own statement after the lawsuit addendum was filed, Verizon denied that this move was related to net neutrality.

The FCC's new rules require internet service providers to publicly disclose how they manage traffic but charge the Federal Trade Commission - not the FCC - with handling complaints.

"Their ability to (fire the fire) was significantly impacted by the data throttling", Murphy said.

But Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams - representing the county's fire department - countered in a press release Wednesday, saying, "Verizon's throttling has everything to do with net neutrality".

"What we did was specifically put in the rule about the ability to review activities", Wheeler said. Verizon wasn't playing favorites when it came to the data that the firefighters received.

He said agencies like his have a challenge: trying to predict how much data they'll need, and balancing it against their budget constraints.

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