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Verizon makes changes as lawmakers decry firefighters’ woes

27 August 2018

Firefighters conduct a controlled burn to defend houses against flames from the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, as it continues to spreads towards the town of Upper Lake, California, on August 1, 2018.

That shouldn't have been necessary, Hickey said, because the company's policy is to immediately remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations.

Dave Hickey, Verizon's vice president of business and government sales, told lawmakers the error by the company had nothing to do with net neutrality.

"We didn't live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire", Mike Maiorana, a Verizon senior vice-president, said in a statement Friday. The carrier said that it will allow mission critical first responders to easily upgrade to this new plan at no additional cost.

In that addendum, the Santa Clara County fire department claims that Verizon's speed caps affected an emergency vehicle that it used as a command and control point to help organize resources and people from across the entire state, and even the country, to help battle this wildfire.

The court document included email correspondence between the fire department and Verizon before the Mendocino Fires started, showing the throttling problem and that Verizon did not lift the data caps until fire officials paid for a more expensive plan.

Verizon was allowed to throttle data plans under the old net neutrality rules, according to Gigi Sohn.

Santa Clara County Fire Department Chief Tony Bowden said Verizon Wireless had hindered the work of firefighters trying to put out the Mendocino Complex Fire by throttling data during the crisis.

Santa Clara County Fire Department Chief Tony Bowden wrote to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, saying the data slowdown - known as throttling - "had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services" for firefighters dispatched to the Mendocino Complex wildfires in Northern California.

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She said Verizon is reviewing the situation and "will fix any issues going forward".

Before they were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission in December, communications companies were required to provide equal data access to all customers.

Verizon's actions have rekindled the national debate over net neutrality rules overturned by the Trump administration late past year.

The department was forced to use other agencies' internet service providers, and some personnel had to use their personal devices for connectivity, Bowden said. But Verizon insisted the data caps - which were a feature of the department's low-priced data plan - have no link to net neutrality.

At the hearing, Bowden recounted a timeline of the fire and Verizon's response.

"It's apples and oranges", said Rudy Reyes, Verizon's assistant general counsel in the western US region.

Santa Clara County Fire Capt. Bill Murphy told CNN that the department's connection speed dropped to what you would expect from a dial-up service, making simple tasks like sending an email or updating a Google document nearly impossible.

"It really truly is meant for the rigors of first responders and how we need it", he said. "And we're making every effort to ensure that it never happens again", he added.

Verizon makes changes as lawmakers decry firefighters’ woes