Verizon slowed internet speed for first responders to fire

Firefighters battling California's largest fire hit by crippling data slowdown slam Verizon's tactics

Verizon throttles Santa Clara fire department's "unlimited" data during a wildfire

Anxiety over how the absence of net neutrality rules could affect things has manifested itself in California.

"The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fuel engines, aircraft, and buIldozers", Bowden wrote.

As Ars reported previously, Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District are among two-dozen local or state government agencies that the Federal Communications Commission in a bid to overturn the repeal of net neutrality rules that outlawed throttling and blocking. 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.

The company will also be releasing a new unlimited data plan for first responders.

After a Verizon representative informed the firefighters they needed to upgrade their service to a $99.99 per month plan, doubling the bill, the department complied, and service improved.

In a statement to CBS News earlier this week, Verizon said the throttling had "nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court".

Verizon officials have said that Santa Clara County fire department's data speeds should not have been throttled after the emergency-response use of the broadband service was revealed, but the matter was not "escalated" properly through the carrier's processes. "We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward", it said.

From now on, Verizon will lift restrictions and provide full network access to first responders during disasters, Maiorana said.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden says the throttling made it hard for crews to coordinate during the initial fire fight.

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.

"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services", according to Bowden's declaration.

"It really truly is meant for the rigors of first responders and how we need it", he said.

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. "We stand united and will work together to ensure this risky practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State". If a severe wildfire or other disaster occurs, leaders contact their service provider and ask to purchase a temporary plan with higher data limits.

So, rather than wait for Verizon to get its act together, he said, they came up with an alternative.

Bowden said his department has encountered data throttling during three different fires, including the Pawnee Fire in Lake County this summer. The blaze ranked second in size only to the Mendocino Complex fires, the largest in state history.

The Mendocino fire which began on July 27 has consumed almost 407,000 acres, or roughly half the size of Rhode Island, and as of Wednesday it was 74 per cent contained.

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