While firefighters fighting the largest wildfire in Californian history were in need of cell service, Verizon admitted that it had slowed the wireless data speeds of those firefighters. Verizon also admitted it had made a mistake in doing so but said the slowdown happened because the fire department's plan allowed for the use of a limited amount of high-speed wireless data.
Verizon also vehemently denied that the action had anything to do with the rollback of net neutrality rules and was merely a mistake on behalf of their customer service department. The occurrence is especially disturbing because of the misleading ways internet companies are allowed to advertise so-called "unlimited" data while in reality there is a data cap. For example, I pay for unlimited internet yet if I exceed 1000 gigs in a single month I am charged for every gig I use after that so it is not truly unlimited.
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In the case of the firefighters, the data was not a matter of simply having an additional charge on their bill for exceeding their own 25 gig cap, but rather once they hit that cap, they were throttled from high-speeds to a mere 30kbps or 30 gigs per second. This is a substantial drop considering the average download speed in the U.S. is 70.75 Mbps, more than double the speeds that the firefighters experienced when they were throttled.
Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a statement, "County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon. This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services." The statement was included in a brief filed by 22 state attorneys generals from the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission.
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<img src="https://media.8ch.net/file_store/4e6992bb1119fec62dc5bf0f9c0c92160dea1a1f0820c1f5d750ff6c18ca519b.jpg" style="max-height:640px;max-width:360px;">
<span style="margin-top:15px;rgba(42,51,6,0.7);font-size:12px;">Maggie Avants/Patch</span>
Bowden's statement continued, "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 fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers." The Fire Chief also noted that they paid for unlimited data and the throttling severely affected "OES 5262" which is a fire department vehicle that is "deployed to large incidents as a command and control resource". It is essentially an information hub used to "track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed".
"In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection for OES 5262 was being throttled by Verizon, and data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds," Bowden said. "These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262's ability to function effectively. My Information Technology staff communicated directly with Verizon via email about the throttling, requesting it be immediately lifted for public safety purposes."
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The Fire Cheif was not pleased with the way that Verizon handled the emergency situation either and said the company is "risking harm to public safety."
Bowden continued, "Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the Department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan."
Verizon responded saying it was an error on the part of customer service. "Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations," Verizon's said. "We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward."
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