Verizon throttled California fire department during wildfire crisis

Verizon throttled California fire department during wildfire crisis

August 21, 2018 0 By Nazmul Khan

As wildfires raged in California this summer, one fire department’s response was impeded by an unexpected problem: data throttling.

In documents filed this week as part of a legal challenge to the FCC’s net neutrality repeal, Santa Clara County Fire Marshal Anthony Bowden explains how Verizon slowed device speeds during the crisis, hindering firefighters’ response.

In the documents, flagged by Ars Technica, Bowden writes that the fire department had purchased an unlimited data plan from Verizon for a support unit’s connection, but the company started throttling speeds “to 1/200, or less” after the unit hit 25GB of use.

Bowden writes that the resulting throttling from Verizon “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services,” as responders were unable to properly track and route firefighting resources. The company continued to slow data speeds even after being informed it was “actively impeding” responders’ ability to fight the blazes, Bowden writes. Ultimately, the fire department had to sign up for a new, more expensive plan before speeds were restored.

The throttling took place after the repeal of net neutrality rules went into effect, although Verizon, like other major carriers, throttled unlimited plans at certain use thresholds long before that. The 22 state attorneys general who filed the documents did not argue that the company’s actions would have violated the previous net neutrality rules. Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The filing includes an increasingly frantic email exchange between Verizon representatives and the fire department. A fire official expressed confusion over “why our public safety data usage is getting throttled down” when they were under the impression that would never happen.

“Please work with us,” a fire official wrote to Verizon at one point. “All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind.”

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