Technology 3 min read

California Firefighters Accuse Verizon of Data Throttling Amid Emergency

Jonathan Weiss /

Jonathan Weiss /

The Santa Clara fire department has submitted evidence of data throttling against Verizon in a lawsuit seeking the reinstatement of the net neutrality rules.

In a declaration written by Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden, he claimed that the data throttling happened while they’re battling the Mendocino Complex Fire.

“County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon,” Bowden wrote. “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.”

Bowden’s statement was submitted in an addendum filed in a brief by the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, California Public Utilities Commission, and the 22 state attorneys general.

The said government institutions are reportedly seeking to reinstate the recently repealed net neutrality rules through a lawsuit that they filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals against the Federal Communications Commission.

“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. These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively,” Bowden further wrote.

According to reports, the fire department has experienced a slowdown in its wireless data speeds since it is subscribed to a plan which only allowed it to use a limited amount of high-speed Internet.

Verizon admitted that it was a mistake on their part to slowdown the Internet speed of the California firefighters. However, they claimed that it has nothing to do with the rollback of the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

In a statement to CNN, Verizon representative Heidi Flato said:

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

The slow data speeds experienced by the Santa Clara firefighters were eventually fixed after they subscribed to a more expensive plan. The officials were not buying Verizon’s explanation.

“Verizon’s throttling has everything to do with net neutrality — it shows that the ISPs will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety,” James William, Santa Clara County counsel, said. “That is exactly what the Trump Administration’s repeal of net neutrality allows and encourages.”

As of Wednesday, just 74 percent of the Mendocino Complex Fire has been contained, consuming over 400 thousand acres which are roughly the size of Houston.

Do you believe that the net neutrality rules should be rolled back to stop these data throttling incidents?

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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