Verizon removes speed restrictions for all West Coast first responders


As California firefighters battled the largest fire in the state's history, Verizon slowed wireless data speeds to a crawl, making it nearly impossible for emergency personnel to use some of its high-tech tracking equipment.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department has said Verizon slowed its internet communications at a wildfire command center three weeks ago, crippling an emergency communications truck's data speeds and forcing firefighters to use other agencies' internet connections and their personal cellphones. He provided email correspondence as evidence. "(Net neutrality) addresses the issue of content discrimination, and we've made it clear we do not do that.

The executives spoke shortly after hearing from Santa Clara County Fire Chief Tony Bowden who said that his agency had experienced similar throttling in December 2017.

Cal Fire firefighters monitor a back fire as they battle the Medocino Complex fire on August 7, 2018 near Lodoga, California.

The goal is to determine "how we ensure that all public safety has the tools they need in some of our hardest moments in California's history battling these natural disasters", added Democratic Assemblywoman Monique Limon of Santa Barbara. Despite pleas from the firefighters, Verizon lifted the cap on data speeds only after Santa Clara agreed to switch to a more expensive data plan. Verizon says all first responders dealing with fires on the West Coast will see their speed caps lifted. "We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires".

That shouldn't have been necessary, Hickey said, because the company's policy is to immediately remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. However, it did admit that the Santa Clara County fire department should not have had to pay for a more expensive plan just to lift the speed caps in this situation, calling this move "a customer support mistake".

"What we did was specifically put in the rule about the ability to review activities", Wheeler said. "Our bigger concern is the throttling will impact people accessing evacuation notices, maps and public warnings".

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Bowden's declaration was submitted in an addendum to a lawsuit filed by 22 states and the District of Columbia to challenge the Federal Communications Commission's decision to do away with net neutrality rules that requires internet providers to treat all traffic equally. Bowden said service was slowed to 1/200th of the typical speed this summer, after firefighters had consumed more than 25 Gigabits.

Verizon's Maiorana apologized on Friday for the slowdowns.

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.

"It shows that the [internet service providers] will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety", Williams added. "That is exactly what the Trump Administration's repeal of net neutrality allows and encourages".

The county had reached its monthly data capacity under its internet plan that allows Verizon to significantly slow service.

He says he saw the writing on the wall on this issue past year, and six months ago, filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission over cell companies common practice of throttling, or "speed capping", data.

"(The FCC) abdicated its role in protecting the public", Sohn said. Sohn argued that this change leaves the public exposed. "But if Verizon reserves the right to throttle you in their terms of service, the FTC can't do anything because the agency only can go after unfair and deceptive trade practices".