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Verizon Throttles Fire Department, Hampering Efforts to Fight California Wildfires

Do you wonder why many of us hate our cellular providers? It's because of incidents such as this:

The Santa Clara County Fire Department said that during its recent effort to fight California's largest wildfire ever, one of its vehicles that used a Verizon SIM card had its connection speeds dramatically reduced and was unable to restore full-speed service until it agreed to take out a higher-speed plan.

Verizon began regularly throttling the fire department's service shortly after the FCC repealed the net neutrality law. Before the repeal, carriers imposed data throttling only when customers used too much data and the network was congested. But the Santa Clara County Fire Department began to notice that its data was throttled each month when it exceeded 25GB shortly after the repeal took effect.

According to a report on Ars Technica, the throttling incident has been submitted as evidence in a suit seeking to reverse the repeal of the net neutrality law.

"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services," Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration. "Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."

Verizon admitted that it made a mistake by not quickly restoring the regular high-speed wireless service to a fire truck that had gone over its data cap and released the following statement:

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.

Bowden gave an example of how Verizon's action affected the department's emergency response. "OES 5262 is a fire department vehicle that is deployed to large incidents as a command and control resource and used to track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed," he explained. "OES 5262 was used to coordinate all of the local government resources deployed to the Mendocino Complex fire," the largest wildfire ever in California's history.