After slowing firefighters' internet, Verizon nixes caps for first responders

Aug 27, 2018, 06:27
After slowing firefighters' internet, Verizon nixes caps for first responders

A nationwide telecommunications company promised changes Friday as state lawmakers said they were shocked to learn that Verizon slowed Northern California firefighters' internet service while they battled what became the state's largest-ever wildfire.

In the lawsuit, Bowden said internet systems are important "in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require rapid deployment and organization" of personnel, resources and equipment.

Santa Clara County fire Chief Anthony Bowden's statement was included in a lawsuit filed against the Federal Communications Commission by Santa Clara County, the fire department, San Jose and multiple other parties in support of net neutrality.

According to Capt. Bill Murphy, the slowed service, which happened several weeks ago as firefighters battled the Mendocino County fire, affected email and the updating of documents that dealt with deployment. The department bought a government high-speed wireless data plan that provides an unlimited amount of data at a set monthly cost, but the company reduces speeds if the buyer exceeds certain levels of use during that billing cycle.

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.

Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said initially that the company's response to Bowden was a "customer support mistake" and "has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court".

She said Verizon is reviewing the situation and "will fix any issues going forward".

Maiorana says Verizon has removed all speed cap restrictions for first responders on the west coast, and also for emergency crews in Hawaii as Hurricane Lane approaches.

Flames from the Mendocino Complex fire burn a ridge, August 8, 2018, near Lodoga, California.

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.

Before they were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission in December, communications companies were required to provide equal data access to all customers. "We had a customer who, in the terms of their agreement, had reached the 25 gigs of data".

Verizon blamed a communication error and acknowledged the fire department's normal service should have been restored more quickly than it was.

"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".

"It really truly is meant for the rigors of first responders and how we need it", he said.

"In supporting first responders in the Mendocino fire, we didn't live up to our own promise of service", he said in a statement.

USA telco Verizon cut back data service to a mobile command and control centre to just 0.5% of normal level after the firefighters exceeded their data package. "We stand united and will work together to ensure this unsafe practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State".

Firefighters monitor a backfire while battling the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, Aug. 7, 2018, near Ladoga, Calif.