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Verizon slowed down firefighters’ internet during California wildfires: court filing

27 August, 2018, 14:58 | Author: Janis Wilson
  • Firefighters battling California's largest fire hit by crippling data slowdown slam Verizon's tactics

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.

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would require internet companies to restore net neutrality in California, requiring equal data access to all customers. 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.

Maiorana says Verizon has removed all speed cap restrictions for first responders on the west coast, and also for emergency crews in Hawaii as Hurricane Lane approaches.

Verizon cut data speeds to a firefighter command vehicle.

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

Verizon said it often eases its policies in emergency situations. He prefaced his question to Reyes by saying the throttling and net neutrality connections are "conflated" and "different issues".

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden detailed the experience as part of a lawsuit filed recently by 22 states and the District of Columbia that challenges the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, which prevented internet service providers from purposely slowing the data or "throttling" customers and discriminating against or favoring certain Internet traffic. "We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward", it said. "In this era of rapid change, you want to have flexibility to respond to new situations".

Meanwhile, U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and 11 other Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling Verizon's action "unacceptable" and demanding an investigation into whether it amounted to "unfair or deceptive" practices.

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That fire has burned 406,532 acres in Northern California.

The announcement came hours before the state Assembly Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding held an informational hearing on the incident.

"The idea that Verizon or another provider can opt in or opt out in helping us do what the public demands is appalling", said Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County supervisor. The new plan rolls out nationwide next week, but was granted immediately for Washington, California and OR because of devastating summer wildfires and for Hawaii, which Friday was bracing for Hurricane Lane, a Category 2 storm.

In a statement, Verizon on Wednesday admitted that it had made a mistake and that it normally lifts limits on data usage in emergencies.

"This is not a reaction to Santa Clara", she said. "And we're making every effort to ensure that it never happens again".

"With my staff, I would rather keep my head down than speak publicly", said Bowden. The firefighters are now trying to control and put out the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has become the largest wildfire in the state's history.

Contrary to multiple media reports, Santa Clara County did not subscribe to the proposed $99.99-per-month plan, which would have covered the first 20 GB of data use and then charged an additional $8 per GB used, without be subject to data throttling, Williams said. Instead, a Verizon representative told the county to upgrade to a more expensive package.

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