A Northern California fire department says Verizon slowed its wireless data speeds to a crawl last month, rendering some of its high-tech tracking equipment nearly useless as firefighters battled the largest wildfire in state history.
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.
"This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court", the statement added. Instead, the telecom company blamed "a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan". In addition, we consistently show up in times of disaster to extend our network capabilities, provide our customers with loaner devices, and provide customers of any provider with access to free charging stations.
"What we did was specifically put in the rule about the ability to review activities", Wheeler said.
The announcement came hours before the state Assembly Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding held an informational hearing on the incident.
The company throttled the department's service as they were still battling the Mendocino Complex Fire because it had reached its data limit for the month.
The Mendocino fire which began on July 27 has consumed almost 407,000 acres, or roughly half the size of Rhode Island, and as of Wednesday it was 74 per cent contained.
A Verizon rep eventually convinced the department to upgrade from a monthly $37.99 data plan to a $99.99 one.More news: Meghan Markle wants her dad to stay away from the Royal family
But Dave Hickey, Verizon's vice president of business and government sales, told lawmakers that what he called an error by the company had nothing to do with net neutrality.
He also called for increasing protections to cell towers in fire-damaged or fire-prone areas to maintain critical communications and warnings to area residents as well as first responders in emergencies.
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.
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.
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. 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.
A Los Angeles city councilman said Friday he wants representatives of the country's major mobile data carriers to appear before the council and explain their policies on "throttling" public safety departments during emergencies.
Multiple members of Congress, including Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, wrote a letter Friday to the Federal Trade Commission demanding an investigation into Verizon's data-throttling of emergency workers.