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

Wednesday, Bowden's comments became a flashpoint in the ongoing battle over net neutrality rules, which long regulated how broadband providers can manipulate their networks.

In the heat of the largest wildfire in California history, Verizon dramatically slowed down data speeds for Santa Clara County firefighters helping to battle the blaze and suggested the department should pay more for a better data plan.

In the lawsuit, Bowden said internet systems are important "in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require rapid deployment and organization" of personnel, resources and equipment.

The subject of the suit was a request from 22 state attorneys general and the attorney general for the District of Columbia to overturn the FCC's repeal of net neutrality.

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 company will also be releasing a new unlimited data plan for first responders.

After the second throttling experience at the Pawnee Fire in June 2018, the department upgraded to a slightly more expensive plan.

"There is an understanding in the agreements between service providers (including Verizon) and the State of Montana that public safety and emergency communications should not be subject to throttling", communications director Amber Conger said in a statement.

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Verizon Senior Vice President Mike Maiorana said the service restrictions were removed as of Thursday and include Hawaii, where emergency crews have rescued people from areas flooded by Hurricane Lane.

She said Verizon is reviewing the situation and "will fix any issues going forward". Verizon only agreed to restore high-speed connections to the fire department after the county agreed to purchase a more expensive plan, Bowden said.

"Some officials are also upset that Verizon chose to slow wireless data speeds, restricting data transfers, a practice known as 'throttling".

"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services", Bowden said in a statement that is part of a lawsuit filed this week in a bid to reinstate federal net neutrality rules. 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 imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services, ' he added.

"Our process failed some first responders on the line", Verizon said in a statement Friday. But Verizon insisted the data caps - which were a feature of the department's low-priced data plan - have no link to net neutrality. As they fought the fire, the department deployed a unit called OES Incident Support Unit 5262 to "track, organize and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed", Bowden said. "For that, we are truly sorry. And we're making every effort to ensure that it never happens again", he added.

So, rather than wait for Verizon to get its act together, he said, they came up with an alternative. 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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