Verizon Throttled Data During Deadly Wildfire in California

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Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden accused Verizon in a lawsuit of intentionally slowing down firefighters' data, even though the fire department had an "unlimited data plan".

In the wake of a customer-service backlash involving California firefighters, Verizon is apologizing for slowing down the data speeds of first-responders - and says it will begin offering emergency workers a new unlimited data plan to avoid future mishaps.

"In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us", the company's statement said.

The California State Assembly held an informational hearing today to discuss Verizon's actions, led by Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding co-chairs Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, and Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara.

Firefighters tackling one of the worst ever brush fires in the USA had their mobile data cut due to overuse.

Verizon's actions have rekindled the national debate over net neutrality rules overturned by the Trump administration late previous year.

Wednesday, Bowden's comments became a flashpoint in the ongoing battle over net neutrality rules, which long regulated how broadband providers can manipulate their networks.

This truck uses a Verizon SIM card for internet service and found this connectivity throttled from peaks of 50Mbps to 30kbps in the middle of fighting the wildfires in the region.

"In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans, ultimately paying significantly more for mission-critical service-even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations."
Bowden said Verizon knew the data slowdown affected the firefighters' crisis response but did nothing. The company added that it has a plan in place to remove the restrictions in emergency situations, but that customer support failed to act on that plan.

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.

Santa Clara County Fire Capt. Bill Murphy told CNN that the department's connection speed dropped to what you would expect from a dial-up service, making simple tasks like sending an email or updating a Google document nearly impossible.

The court document included email correspondence between the fire department and Verizon before the Mendocino Fires started, showing the throttling problem and that Verizon did not lift the data caps until fire officials paid for a more expensive plan.

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. "For that, we are truly sorry". 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.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan conference committee proposed legislation Friday that would allow California utilities to sell bonds and pass the cost to customers to help cover liability when their equipment starts wildfires.

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