Verizon Wireless apparently data throttled the Santa Clara firefighters fighting the Mendocino Complex wildfires in northern California. According to the Mercury News, Santa Clara County Fire Department Chief Tony Bowden opened a court case with the United State Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. citing that Verizon Wireless data throttled, or limited the speed of their internet, and has email correspondences to prove it. Tony Bowden argues that the throttling “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services” to the wildfires. So far, the fires have destroyed more than 400,000 acres so far.
Why were the emergency service providers’ data limited? Before the Mendocino Complex fires started, a Verizon account manager suggested that the fire department upgrades to a $39.99 unlimited data plan in order to restore data speeds that were being throttled under their current plan. When the fires kicked off, the account manager raised the price to $99.99 to remove the throttle. The data speeds were 1/200 of the original contract that the fire department had in place.
Heidi Flato, a Verizon Wireless spokesperson, came out and said the whole incident was a mistake.
“Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” she said. “We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.”
While Bill Murphy, a public information officer with the Santa Clara County Fire Department, was more worried about future lives in jeopardy.
“The Fire Department’s concern is more that the throttling may impact the public in times of emergency and disaster,” Murphy said. “We as a society rely so much on our ability to communicate through the internet. Our bigger concern is the throttling will impact people accessing evacuation notices, maps and public warnings.”
One of the bigger issues up for debate is regarding net neutrality. Net neutrality is highly debated and seeks to eliminate telecommunication or broadband companies from limiting internet speeds to its users. Data providers can also favor certain web pages by loading speeds or even blocking content. Net neutrality was originally voted in favor for in 2015 but was repealed recently in 2017.