Verizon tries to douse criticism, touts "priority access" for first responders

Verizon tries to douse criticism, touts

Verizon tries to douse criticism, touts "priority access" for first responders

As California lawmakers prepared on Wednesday for a key committee vote on their state's net neutrality bill - which, in its current form, would restore the protections repealed by the FCC in December - the Santa Clara County Fire Department accused the telecom giant Verizon of dramatically cutting its data speed as it recently fought the largest recorded wildfire in California's history.

His declaration is an addendum to a legal challenge against the FCC filed by almost two dozen state attorneys general and a slew of government agencies looking to overturn the repeal of net neutrality rules that went into effect in June.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Tony Bowden wrote in a declaration, filed as evidence in a lawsuit over net neutrality rules, that his department was tasked with coordinating resources - such as personnel and vehicles - during the wildfires. We'll provide full details when we introduce the plan next week, and we will make it easy to upgrade service at no additional cost.

Legislators sent a letter to the CEO of Verizon this afternoon calling for answers and assurances that the safety of first responders, and communities that are threatened by these massive blazes, will not be put in jeopardy so the company can pad their bank accounts.

Verizon Wireless on Friday said it will immediately stop imposing data speed restrictions on first responders throughout the West Coast and Hawaii after facing intense criticism for reducing service to firefighters battling California's largest-ever wildfire.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department has said Verizon slowed its internet communications at a wildfire command center three weeks ago, crippling an emergency communications truck's data speeds and forcing firefighters to use other agencies' internet connections and their personal cellphones.

Flames from the Mendocino Complex fire burn a ridge, August 8, 2018, near Lodoga, California.

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.

Bowden said when he requested that Verizon restore data speeds, the company instead offered a data plan that was nearly twice as expensive. Those rules are meant to force broadband companies to give all customers comparable service, and many critics have insisted they would have protected firefighters' internet access.

Verizon's actions have rekindled the national debate over net neutrality rules overturned by the Trump administration late previous year. Verizon wasn't playing favorites when it came to the data that the firefighters received.

As of August 13, wildfires across California had scorched more than 726,000 acres and destroyed at least 2,000 structures, Bowden said in his declaration. "The FTC must investigate whether Verizon and other communications companies are being unfair or deceptive in the services they're offering to public safety entities, and if so, to determine what remedies are appropriate to ensure our first responders have adequate service when lives are on the line". 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. "I really truly hope there is a greater partnership (with cellular providers) where this does not happen with any public agency".

Firefighters monitor a backfire while battling the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, Aug. 7, 2018, near Ladoga, Calif.

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