Lawsuit: Verizon Slowed Firefighters’ Internet During Wildfire

Verizon promises to stop selling its subscribers location data... for now
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Verizon promises to stop selling its subscribers location data... for now READ MORE

The brief asserts that when the FCC struck down net neutrality rules, it failed to consider the public's need to access a free and open internet for government services.

When Santa Clara Fire Department reached out to Verizon to fix the problem, they were told that the department needed to switch to a higher data plan, which was more than twice the cost they were paying for the original plan. The suit claims that once net neutrality was taken off the books, the Fire Department's service was throttled not only during times of network congestion, but all of the time.

Ars Technica earlier reported on the allegations against Verizon by fire department in Santa Clara, Califorina.

Buss eventually suggested a $99 plan that would charge the fire department $8 per gigabyte after 20GB had been used.

Verizon told The Washington Post in a statement Wednesday that it made a customer support mistake with the fire department and should have lifted the data speed restrictions during the emergency.

The company went on to say it should have lifted restrictions in the emergency situation.

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The Santa Clara County fire department accuses the internet service provider of slowing down service on its devices despite knowledge that the slowdown was making it hard for firefighters to coordinate resources as they fought the blaze. "This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court", she said.

In the declaration, 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.

"In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection for OES 5262 was being throttled by Verizon, and data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds". The vehicle is a "command and control resource" that helps direct traffic during big fires and other emergencies, coordinating with other agencies, he added.

Slowing down data speeds after a customer reaches its monthly data limit is a common practice among internet service providers and cellular carriers that's known as throttling.

LACK OF OVERSIGHT. Verizon may not have violated the net neutrality rule against throttling (after all, it slowed down all of the SCCFD's activity, not just activity geared toward one site), but the repeal might still play a role in this situation. "That is exactly what the Trump Administration's repeal of Net Neutrality allows and encourages". The throttling in Mendocino wasn't the first such incident, and Bowden said that Verizon will likely keep restricting data during emergencies to force public agencies into more expensive plans. "Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle", Verizon's statement reads. Instead the throttling and extra cost for the Santa Clara Fire Department was "a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan".

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