Verizon sued by CA firefighters for slowing speeds during wildfire

Firefighters light a backfire while battling the Mendocino Complex Fire near Potter Valley Calif. on Aug. 9

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said emergency personnel heavily relies on Internet services to monitor fast-moving fires and coordinate resources.

The fire chief said the incident with Verizon highlighted the importance of ensuring emergency responders have access to quick data that could prove lifesaving. He provided email correspondence as evidence.

The company added that the incident had nothing to do with net neutrality. Bowden initially made the comments as part of a court battle over the issue.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden says the throttling made it hard for crews to coordinate during the initial fire fight. On July 30, when the fires were raging, Buss raised the suggested price to $99.99 per month to remove throttling.!

Firefighters conduct a controlled burn to defend houses against flames from the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, as it continues to spreads towards the town of Upper Lake, California, on August 1, 2018.

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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.

The company did not restore the department's data speeds until the agency upgraded its plan at double the price despite already having an unlimited data plan, he said.

Nonetheless, Verizon said full-service should have been immediately restored to the county when fire department authorities told a customer service representative it was responding to a public emergency.

During the Friday hearing, Bowden specifically said that his staff was still unable to reach this accounts manager, and they had to call the ordinary customer support line. "We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward".

"Californians who depend on first responders to protect their lives and property were shocked to learn that a cellular service provider could use its pricing policies to hinder the efforts of firefighters in the early hours of the Mendocino Complex Fire", the committee's leaders, Democratic Assembly members Marc Levine of San Rafael and Monique Limon of Santa Barbara said in a joint statement. "Our bigger concern is the throttling will impact people accessing evacuation notices, maps and public warnings". Bowden said service was slowed to 1/200th of the typical speed this summer, after firefighters had consumed more than 25 Gigabits.

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

The FCC adopted net neutrality protections in 2015, but the agency under Trump administration's voted in 2017 to repeal those rules. 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.

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.

"It shows that the [internet service providers] will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety", Williams added.

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