Verizon slowed data as massive wildfire was fought, chief says

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MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. — Anxiety over how the absence of net neutrality rules could affect things has manifested itself in California.

Ars Technica reports on a new lawsuit that includes a statement from Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden alleging Verizon throttled the fire department’s data services (specifically tied to its vehicle OES 5262, which uses a Verizon SIM card to get online) while it was in the midst of fighting the state’s wildfires.

“Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling” was curtailing the department’s emergency response, Bowden said.

His declaration is an addendum to a legal challenge against the Federal Communications Commission filed by nearly 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.

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.”

Even though the fire department had an “unlimited” data plan, Ars Technica notes big carriers sometimes slow things when a certain amount of data is exceeded.

A Verizon representative eventually convinced the department to upgrade from a monthly $37.99 data plan to a $99.99 one.

In a statement to the Verge, Verizon says the throttling had “nothing to do with net neutrality,” it was a “customer support mistake.”

“Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” the company said.

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