The Santa Clara County Fire Department says Verizon slowed its internet communications at a wildfire command centre three weeks ago, crippling the emergency communications truck's data speeds and forcing firefighters to use other agencies' internet connections and their personal cellphones. This was right in the middle of the department's response to a wildfire, said department chief Anthony Bowden, in an official declaration. He provided email correspondence as evidence.
But Dave Hickey, Verizon's vice president of business and government sales, told lawmakers that what he called an error by the company had nothing to do with net neutrality. Bowden initially made the comments as part of a court battle over the issue.
The move comes in response to complaints by the Santa Clara Fire Department, which reported a slowdown in Verizon data service earlier this month while the agency was fighting the Mendocino Complex fire.
The actions come after Verizon drew widespread criticism for throttling first responders who were battling the Mendocino Complex fire in California.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a dozen other House Democrats have written the Federal Trade Commission looking for an investigation into Verizon's (NYSE:VZ) limiting of data speeds for firefighters battling the California wildfires.
Bowden said that when the fire department reached out to Verizon to inform the company of the throttling, a representative said the department had exceeded its data usage limit and suggested it subscribe to a new, more expensive plan. "We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires".
Verizon said it often eases its policies in emergency situations. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward, ' the statement added.
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"It's just ludicrous. Their answer is just upgrade your plan", Williams said.
Limon referenced the Thomas Fire, which burned over 280,000 acres in her district in December 2017. "Our bigger concern is the throttling will impact people accessing evacuation notices, maps and public warnings".
The lawsuit, filed by 22 states and the District of Columbia, challenges the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, which prevented internet service providers from purposely slowing the data, called "throttling", and blocking or discriminating against users, platforms or content providers. Bowden said service was slowed to 1/200th of the typical speed this summer, after firefighters had consumed more than 25 Gigabits.
The multi-party lawsuit says Verizon's actions were a effect of the FCC's December 2017 repeal of net neutrality laws, which mandates equal access to all internet websites and allows the FCC greater control over internet service providers, like Verizon.
"There is an understanding in the agreements between service providers (including Verizon) and the State of Montana that public safety and emergency communications should not be subject to throttling", communications director Amber Conger said in a statement.
"Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services", he added.
"It shows that the ISPs will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety", Williams said.