Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

Verizon fire phone snag cited by net neutrality bill backers

Utah firefighter Mathew Burchett. Burchett died Aug. 13 while fighting the Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco Verizon throttles Santa Clara fire department's "unlimited" data during a wildfire
Pete Mitchell | 27 August, 2018, 14:58

Ars Technica details the email back-and-forth-starting in late June and continuing as the Mendocino Complex Fire raged on-between Verizon and fire officials, including one in which a fire IT officer begs, "Please work with us". The company added that it has a plan in place to remove the restrictions in emergency situations, but that customer support failed to act on that plan.

Bowden said his department has encountered data throttling during three different fires, including the Pawnee Fire in Lake County this summer. In today's new statement, Verizon apologized to the department and added it has lifted all throttling caps for those firefighters, along with the emergency departments that are now dealing with the effects of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii.

On Friday, Verizon announced in a statement (https://www.verizon.com/about/news/verizon-statement-california-wildfires-and-hurricane-lane-hawaii) that it will temporarily stop all throttling on service for first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii, to support firefighting efforts and the response to Hurricane Lane.

The problem came to light this week in a brief that is part of a federal lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood and 22 other state attorneys general, arguing the Federal Communications Commission's 3-2 vote in December to scrap the previous net neutrality rules puts consumers at risk. Verizon acknowledged it had "made a mistake" and explained that the slowdowns occurred because the fire department had used up too much data, despite being subscribed to an unlimited data plan.

Under the plan, Verizon said, the fire department was entitled to an unlimited amount of data but speeds would be reduced after the fire department exceeded its allotment. Verizon only agreed to restore high-speed connections to the fire department after the county agreed to purchase a more expensive plan, Bowden said.

Erwin added that the new plan had been in development for more than eight months.

A nationwide telecommunications company promised changes Friday as state lawmakers said they were shocked to learn that Verizon slowed Northern California firefighters' internet service while they battled what became the state's largest-ever wildfire.

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Because the Santa Clara County Fire Department covers seven cities and a large portion of the Santa Cruz mountains, it now buys service from both Verizon and AT&T to increase redundancy in coverage areas.

The FCC's new rules require internet service providers to publicly disclose how they manage traffic but charge the Federal Trade Commission - not the FCC - with handling complaints.

"We had a process failure", Erwin said during an interview with IWCE's Urgent Communications.

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

However, the firm agreed full service should have been immediately restored to the county when fire department authorities told a customer service representative it was responding to a public emergency, and the department should not have been urged to upgrade instead.

"It really truly is meant for the rigors of first responders and how we need it", he said.

"The idea that Verizon or another provider can opt in or opt out in helping us do what the public demands is appalling", said Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County supervisor. "We stand united and will work together to ensure this risky practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State". But the issue was exacerbated at the Mendocino Complex Fire in July, as the staff could not reach a Verizon accounts manager, despite multiple phone calls and emails, until a day later.

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