Economy

Verizon slowed internet speed for first responders to fire

Verizon slowed internet speed for first responders to fire”

A USA mobile network has come under criticism after severely limiting service to firefighters battling the biggest wildfire in California's history.

Verizon's plan, which was discussed among state Assembly members during a committee meeting on Friday, was made public on the heels of revelations that the company slowed the speed of Santa Clara County firefighters' data as they helped battle the massive Mendocino Complex fire in July. But in this case, officials have emphasized, homes and even lives were at stake.

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

The Santa Clara County Fire Department said in a lawsuit that Verizon slowed its internet communications at a Northern California wildfire command center three weeks ago.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden called unlimited data flow "critical to public safety" but said public agencies do not have unlimited funds and try to find an affordable plan that will meet their needs.

The county first disclosed the issue in a court filing last week in support of a lawsuit seeking to restore net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission. The County of Santa Clara, the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District and the California Public Utilities Commission are also petitioners in the lawsuit.

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.

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.

Verizon has since said it will change its policies for public safety departments during emergencies. But Verizon insisted the data caps - which were a feature of the department's low-priced data plan - have no link to net neutrality.

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

"It is unacceptable for communications providers to deceive their customers, but when the consumer in question is a government entity tasked with fire and emergency services, we can't afford to wait a moment longer", the letter says. "This was a customer support mistake", the statement said.

Flato said the situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court, but was a customer service issue. Verizon customers have access to our more than 450,000-square mile 4G LTE coverage advantage over competitors.

Limon referenced the Thomas Fire, which burned over 280,000 acres in her district in December 2017. Resources could be deployed to the wrong fire, the wrong part of a fire, or fail to be deployed at all.

Keeping emergency personnel connected requires a lot of data.

"Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling", Bowden added, "but rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan".

At the hearing, Bowden recounted a timeline of the fire and Verizon's response.

"It's $99.99 for the first 20GB and $8/GB thereafter", the Verizon account manager replied.



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