Councilman Wants Mobile Companies to Explain 'Throttling' of First Responders

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Ars Technica details the email back-and-forth-starting in late June and continuing as the Mendocino Complex Fire raged on-between Verizon and fire officials, including one in which a fire IT officer begs, "Please work with us".

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.

Bowden said his department has encountered data throttling during three different fires, including the Pawnee Fire in Lake County this summer.

He says he saw the writing on the wall on this issue past year, and six months ago, filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission over cell companies common practice of throttling, or "speed capping", data.

The new rules allow companies to limit access to customers who have reached certain data limits.

The multi-party lawsuit says Verizon's actions were a outcome of the FCC's December 2017 repeal of net neutrality laws, which mandates equal access to all internet websites and allows the FCC greater control over internet service providers, like Verizon.

He also called for increasing protections to cell towers in fire-damaged or fire-prone areas to maintain critical communications and warnings to area residents as well as first responders in emergencies.

"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".

Throttling means data was reduced to at least 0.5 per cent of normal speed or less.

But Verizon said in a statement that "this situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court".

The slowdown "had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services", Bowden said. Leaders say those contracts take into account concerns over access to data.

'Dated or stale information regarding the availability or need for resources can slow response times and render them far less effective.

The throttling specifically affected a fire department vehicle "deployed to large incidents as a command and control resource" and is used to 'track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed, ' Bowden wrote.

But Bowden concluded that unless regulatory action is taken, Verizon will continue to exploit emergency situations like wildfires to impose higher costs on the public and reap greater profits.

"I don't want to pay for all that data every month on the off chance that we're going to use it", he said.

Dave Hickey, Verizon's vice president of business and government sales, told lawmakers the error by the company had nothing to do with net neutrality.

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

California Professional Firefighters threw their support Friday behind the pro-net neutrality bill in the Legislature, SB822, demanding the restoration of Obama-era regulations written by then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, which the Trump administration-led Federal Communications Commission repealed in 2017.