Verizon: ‘Mistake’ to throttle fire department data during wildfire

The telecommunications company noted that it often removes data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations

By FireRescue1 Staff

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Verizon acknowledged that it should not have throttled a fire department’s data service while they battled a wildfire, citing a customer support mistake in the issue.

Ars Technica reported that the telecommunications company released a statement in response to a story the website had posted about the data throttling during the Mendocino Complex Fire response.

"Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations," Verizon's statement 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."

Ars Technica, which first reported the story, noted that Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden submitted the throttling incident as evidence in support of a lawsuit that seeks to overturn a recent repeal of net neutrality rules.

"The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers," Bowden wrote.

He said the throttling affected “OES 5262,” a fire department command vehicle that is used to “track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed.”

The command vehicle uses a Verizon SIM card for Internet access.

Verizon noted in their statement that they “made a mistake” when communicating to the department the stipulations of their unlimited plan, which include a slowing down of data once a usage threshold is reached.

"We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan," Verizon said. "Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. 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 said the department’s issue had “nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court.”

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