Well, Verizon is at it again, throttling the Santa Clara Fire Department’s data service, despite the department’s ‘unlimited’ data plan, according to Ars Technica. “OES 5262,” a fire department vehicle that is essential in large-scale incidents like the Mendocino Complex Fire, the currently ongoing wildfire that has become the largest in California history, was the main victim of this throttling, with its data rates having been reduced to 1/200 of its normal speed.
“These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively. My Information Technology staff communicated directly with Verizon via email about the throttling, requesting it be immediately lifted for public safety purposes,” wrote Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden in a declaration. “Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, 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.”
The OES 5262’s capabilites were essentially dysfunctional without the necessary speeds, and so responders had to turn to their own personal devices “provide the necessary connectivity and data transfer capability required by OES 5262,” Bowden wrote. “In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans, ultimately paying significantly more for mission-critical service—even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations.”
Verizon has since recognized that they should have lifted the throttling after the fire department requested them to do so: “Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. “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.”
Verizon has also made the claim that such throttling is in line with the data plan that the fire department chose, and that this move was a mistake that has nothing to with net neutrality. Bowden’s statement will become an addendum to brief that is being used in the lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the ongoing fight to restore net neutrality.
After an email exchange between Verizon and the Santa Clara Fire Department, the department has more than doubled its bill to upgrade to more reliable and unlimited services. “While Verizon ultimately did lift the throttling, it was only after County Fire subscribed to a new, more expensive plan,” Bowden wrote.