Verizon throttled California fire department’s unlimited data during wildfire

Brittany A. Roston - Aug 21, 2018, 8:00 pm CST
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Verizon throttled California fire department’s unlimited data during wildfire

The Santa Clara Fire Department has revealed that Verizon throttled its unlimited data during a wildfire, forcing it to upgrade to a different plan at more than double the original rate. The issue came to light in an addendum to a brief submitted to the attorneys general of 22 states, with the fire department stating that it had informed Verizon that the throttling was impeding its ability to respond.

Based on evidence submitted by Santa Clara Fire, as well as a declaration by Fire Chief Anthony Bowden, Verizon throttled the department’s unlimited data. When contacted and informed of the issue, the wireless carrier required the plan to be upgraded to a new, more expensive alternative. Bowden’s declaration reads, in part:

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 throttling specifically impacted the fire department vehicle OES 5262, which was used to coordinate resources deployed to the Mendocino Complex Fire, among other things, according to the declaration. The vehicle relied on Verizon’s network for Internet access during the wildfire response, during which time its speeds were severely reduced.

According to Bowden’s declaration:

The throttling specifically impacted the fire department vehicle OES 5262, which is used to coordinate resources deployed to the Mendocino Complex Fire, among other things, according to the declaration. The vehicle relied on Verizon’s network for Internet access during the wildfire response, during which time its speeds were reduced to 1/200 or less versus its original speeds.

Despite confirming the throttling, Verizon is said to have “indicated” that the department had to switch to a new plan with more than double the cost to eliminate the throttling.

Verizon has since issued a statement on the matter, saying it has “a practice” of removing throttling for emergency responders in emergency situations. However, a “customer support mistake” resulted in the need to switch plans before the throttling could be removed.

Verizon’s full statement on the matter is below:

This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court.

We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan. Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle. Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. 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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