Verizon sued by CA firefighters for slowing speeds during wildfire

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Verizon, heavily criticized for "throttling" a Northern California fire agency's communications equipment, said Friday it's lifted data-speed restrictions on all first responders dealing with the state's barrage of wildfires.

Verizon said it removed all speed cap restrictions for emergency workers fighting wildfires on the West Coast and for those in Hawaii, where emergency crews were rescuing people from areas flooded by Hurricane Lane. Not only did Verizon refuse to lift the cap it had placed on the internet speeds on an unlimited data plan, it tried to convince the department that switching to a different, more expensive one was its only viable solution.

Verizon's moves are aimed at soothing mounting outrage sparked by the Santa Clara County Fire Department, which said that the telecom giant had throttled the speeds of firefighters struggling to contain the largest wildfire California has ever seen.

A couple of days ago, we told you that Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote an addendum that was attached to a suit filed with the USA appeals court.

"By implementing net neutrality, SB 822 will help prevent internet service providers from throttling, thereby preventing data speeds to be manipulated and, in turn, avoid crippling, or worse, deadly outcomes", said the CPF in a statement on Friday. Instead, the telecom company blamed "a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan".

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

The California State Assembly's Committee on Natural Disaster Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding is holding an informational hearing Friday on "The Verizon Wireless "Data Throttling" of Mendocino Complex Firefighters' Internet Access".

Cal Fire firefighters monitor a back fire as they battle the Medocino Complex fire on August 7, 2018 near Lodoga, California.

The Mendocino fire which began on July 27 has consumed almost 407,000 acres, or roughly half the size of Rhode Island, and as of Wednesday it was 74 per cent contained. "(Net neutrality) addresses the issue of content discrimination, and we've made it clear we do not do that.

As Ars reported previously, Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District are among two-dozen local or state government agencies that the Federal Communications Commission in a bid to overturn the repeal of net neutrality rules that outlawed throttling and blocking.

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As of August 13, wildfires across California had scorched more than 726,000 acres and destroyed at least 2,000 structures, Bowden said in his declaration.

Verizon will also work closely with mission critical first responders to refine its service plan to better meet unique needs, it said.

Legislators sent a letter to the CEO of Verizon this afternoon calling for answers and assurances that the safety of first responders, and communities that are threatened by these massive blazes, will not be put in jeopardy so the company can pad their bank accounts.

"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.

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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