Net Neutrality Gets Boost After Verizon Throttled Data Speeds During Wildfires

Firefighters monitor the Blue Cut Fire as flames scorch a hillside near Wrightwood, California, August 17, 2016. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Verizon Wireless announced Friday it would waive data transfer restrictions for California first responders after throttling firemen during this summer’s wildfires became an argument for California passing its own Net Neutrality law.

Breitbart News reported that the Democrat-controlled California legislature is battling opposition from Verizon and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to pass “SB-822 Communications: Broadband Internet Access Service” before the August 31 recess The bill would reinstitute at the state level the federal Net Neutrality regulations that the Federal Communications Commission rescinded on June 11.

ARS Technica reported that until August 21, Verizon claimed the only reason that Santa Clara County Fire Department’s $37.95 “unlimited data” plan had been throttled by Verizon in early July at the height of the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, was due to a “customer service error” and had nothing to do with the impacts of the Trump administration dumping Net Neutrality regulations.

But according to a brief entered last week in a federal appeals court lawsuit filed by Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, the California Public Utilities Commission, and 22 state attorneys to force the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reinstate “Net Neutrality” rules, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden declared that California firefighters’ were throttled despite subscribing to Verizon’s advertised $37.95-per-month unlimited Internet data plan.

Unbeknownst to firefighters, according to Bowden, small print in Verizon contracts reserves the right to throttle “unlimited plan” data throughput for data use over a certain data limitation. At the height of the wildfires, Verizon throttled Santa Clara County firefighters’ OES5262 command vehicle’s Internet data speeds by 99.5 percent.

Bowden emphasized that the throttled Internet speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to deploy thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers to protect public safety.

When the county’s information technology staff communicated directly with Verizon via email, they were told the fire department would have to upgrade from Verizon’s $37.99 plan to its $39.95 plan to stop the throttling. But Verizon warned that after the county used 25 gigabytes of data under the $39.95 plan, the service speed would drop to zero. Verizon suggested the county purchase a $99.99-per-month plan with 20 gigabytes of data and pay $8 per gigabyte for any extra bandwidth used during the month.

Bowden declared: “While Verizon ultimately did lift the throttling, it was only after County Fire subscribed to a new, more expensive plan.”

Verizon Wireless did admit in a statement to Ars Technica on August 23 that it should have lifted the data speed restrictions when contacted by an emergency responder. Verizon stated: “We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan.”

Breitbart reported on August 24 that after sustaining several amending rounds, SB 822 seemed poised to pass the full State Senate and be signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown. Verizon’s throttling of California firefighters during an epic crisis would seem to make the odds of passage by this Friday much more likely.


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