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Verizon throttles fire department data during California wildfire, in typical money-grubbing fashion

Pay more to fight fires faster.


Verizon Wireless has been accused of throttling a fire department's unlimited data services in a recent lawsuit. The Santa Clara County Fire Department asserts that Verizon's actions have had a "significant impact" on the team's ability to provide emergency relief.

"Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services," said Fire Chief Anthony Bowden as part of a written statement in an addendum filed by 22 different state attorneys looking to have the recent net neutrality ruling overturned.

The brief states that the fire department vehicle "OES 5262" was recently affected as part of an emergency operation when it came to dealing with the Mendocino Complex Fire, the ongoing wildfire that you've probably seen plastered all over the news -- it's a big one, and a huge problem for locals in the surrounding areas. The vehicle utilizes Verizon internet service for its various connectivity-related tasks.

"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," explained Bowden in the addendum brief. "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."

Verizon simply confirmed that the data was being throttled, but instead of restoring speeds, the team stated that County Fire would only see higher speeds if they switched to a higher data plan. Bowden contends that these actions pose a risk to public safety.

In a statement to Ars Technica, Verizon stated that the company shouldn't have continued to throttle data, noting that the company made a "mistake" when it came to the denial of speed and communicating the terms of County Fire's plan with them, which sounds like less of an apology and more of a finger waggle to the fire department about how they need to spend more money. While Verizon states that the action has nothing to do with net neutrality, he timing is more than a bit suspicious.

It's hard to believe Verizon wants to stick to its guns about the decision made here when it comes to internet provided to emergency responders. It's not as if during a fire they're browsing Tinder and uploading selfies, they're literally trying to save lives. But go on, Verizon. Go off. Hopefully this isn't setting a precedent for the way ISPs are looking to provide internet service to organizations like fire or police departments going forward. 

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

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