Councilman Wants Mobile Companies to Explain 'Throttling' of First Responders

Verizon throttles Santa Clara fire department's

In the heat of the largest wildfire in California history, Verizon dramatically slowed down data speeds for Santa Clara County firefighters helping to battle the blaze and suggested the department should pay more for a better data plan.

Chief Bowden and Verizon representatives are slated to speak at the hearing.

The revelations, which were first reported by Ars Technica, are buried in an addendum to a brief filed in support of 21 states and the District of Columbia, which together filed a lawsuit this year that essentially seeks to restore rules known as net neutrality.

Firefighters conduct a controlled burn to defend houses against flames from the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, as it continues to spreads towards the town of Upper Lake, California, on August 1, 2018.

Verizon Wireless said it would launch an unlimited plan next week with no speed caps for data use.

Santa Clara County Fire Capt. Bill Murphy told CNN that the department's connection speed dropped to what you would expect from a dial-up service, making simple tasks like sending an email or updating a Google document nearly impossible.

Service providers in the US have always been able to throttle mobile data after a data cap is reached, even when more robust net neutrality rules were in place.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department has said Verizon slowed its internet communications at a wildfire command center three weeks ago, crippling an emergency communications truck's data speeds and forcing firefighters to use other agencies' internet connections and their personal cellphones. The department claims that when it contacted Verizon on this matter, the carrier said it would only lift the speed caps if the department switched to a new unlimited plan, which cost twice as much as the previous plan.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said emergency personnel heavily relies on Internet services to monitor fast-moving fires and coordinate resources.

The FCC's new rules require internet service providers to publicly disclose how they manage traffic but charge the Federal Trade Commission - not the FCC - with handling complaints.

"The fire department's concern is more that the throttling may impact the public in times of emergency and disaster", Murphy said.

As of Friday, more than 415,000 acres have burned in the Mendocino Complex Fire.

"It's important for communications providers and public safety agencies to work together closely to ensure that agencies have communications services that meet their needs, especially in emergency situations". But Verizon insisted the data caps - which were a feature of the department's low-priced data plan - have no link to net neutrality. "For that, we are truly sorry".

"First responders put themselves on the line each and every day", Mike Maiorana, Verizon senior vice president of public sector", said in a statement. 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.

"In large and complex fires, resource allocation requires immediate information", he wrote.

The data restrictions were not lifted until the SCCFD paid Verizon for an upgraded data plan at double the cost of the original plan, emails included in the court documents show.

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