Santa Clara County Claims in Lawsuit that Verizon Throttling Affected Response to Wildfire

Verizon favored profit over the safety of citizens said 22 governmental agencies in a lawsuit filed Monday. The lawsuit seeks to reinstate federal net neutrality rules.

Verizon has figuratively come under fire for what could turn out to be the biggest argument for the reinstatement of federal net neutrality rules.  Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in an addendum submitted to a lawsuit filed on August 20 in Santa Clara that “County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon,” he added, “This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services.”

Throttling Affected Services That Rely on the Internet to Respond

In his statement, Bowden wrote that “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,” adding, that the Santa Clara Fire Department subscribed and paid Verizon for “unlimited” data but while in needs suffered and was being held captive from heavy throttling until the department agreed to pay the telecom giant more money. The claims made were substantiated in emails between the fire department and Verizon that were submitted as evidence.

The Department gave as an example of throttling  how the “OES 5262,” a fire department vehicle that is “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,” were affected by the throttling Bowden wrote, and in effect made them “non-operational” since it requires a device that uses a Verizon SIM card for Internet access.”OES 5262 also coordinates all local government resources deployed to the Mendocino Complex Fire,” an ongoing wildfire that is the largest in California’s history, Bowden wrote. “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,” Bowden wrote. “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 responded in a public statement that “Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have the 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.”

Under pressure to get back online during this crisis, Santa Clara apparently upgraded to the $99.99 plan, almost tripling its existing bill. “While Verizon ultimately did lift the throttling, it was only after County Fire subscribed to a new, more expensive plan,” Bowden wrote in his declaration.


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