Verizon to stop imposing data restrictions on firefighters battling California wildfires

Anxiety over how the absence of net neutrality rules could affect things has manifested itself in California.

Santa Clara County Fire Department is suing Verizon Wireless after the telecoms giant limited firefighters' access as they battled the largest wildfire in Californian state history.

To make things worse, Bowden adds, "Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling" was curtailing the department's emergency response.

The county disclosed the problem in a court filing last week supporting a lawsuit brought by 22 state attorneys general seeking to restore net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission. It provides a separate network, used only by first responders, and offers data plans with no limits or throttling.

Instead, the representative urged the county to upgrade to a more expensive package, according to an email chain attached to the county's court filing. In today's new statement, Verizon apologized to the department and added it has lifted all throttling caps for those firefighters, along with the emergency departments that are now dealing with the effects of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii.

Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said the company made a mistake and "will fix any issues going forward". Not only did Verizon refuse to lift the cap it had placed on the internet speeds on an unlimited data plan, it tried to convince the department that switching to a different, more expensive one was its only viable solution.

Still, Verizon conceded, "we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations".

Verizon throttles Santa Clara fire department's
Verizon sued by CA firefighters for slowing speeds during wildfire

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.

He added that the company plans to introduce a new "unlimited data" plan next week.

The slowdown "had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services", Bowden said. "For that, we are truly sorry".

He blamed an "operational error" for the company's failure to lift the data cap as soon as firefighters called.

On Friday, Verizon announced in a statement (https://www.verizon.com/about/news/verizon-statement-california-wildfires-and-hurricane-lane-hawaii) that it will temporarily stop all throttling on service for first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii, to support firefighting efforts and the response to Hurricane Lane. Verizon customers have access to our more than 450,000-square mile 4G LTE coverage advantage over competitors.

As of Friday, more than 415,000 acres have burned in the Mendocino Complex Fire. He said he hoped Verizon and other providers will provide assurances this will never happen again and asked state lawmakers to "harden our infrastructure to protect cell towers" against wildfires, which assist both first responders and evacuees.

The mobile command center described in the declaration, known as "OES Incident Support Unit 5262", was responsible for coordinating all the local government resources deployed to the Mendocino Complex Fire, Bowden wrote. "The FTC must investigate whether Verizon and other communications companies are being unfair or deceptive in the services they're offering to public safety entities, and if so, to determine what remedies are appropriate to ensure our first responders have adequate service when lives are on the line".

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