SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – A Bay Area fire chief made a stunning claim Tuesday, accusing Verizon of putting his wildfire crews and the public in danger when the company slowed down their data as they battled the Mendocino Complex Fire.
According to claims by the Santa Clara County Fire Department's chief, Verizon slowed the speed of department's data plan as his cres were in the midst of fighting the largest wildfire in state history.
"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services," said Chief Anthony Bowden. He further claimed that Verizon knew the throttling impacted the firefighters' response, but did nothing.
Tuesday night, Verizon representatives told KPIX it made a mistake.
Bowden made his claims in an addendum to a brief that 22 state attorneys general filed in a lawsuit. It wants to overturn the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules.
That means they want a U.S. court to reinstate the Obama-era policy that stopped internet providers from throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes.
Fire officials said the throttling of data during an emergency like the Mendocino Complex Fire also presented a danger to the public.
"Our concern would be the public's ability to access the information that we are providing to them through the internet," said Bill Murphy, Fire Captain with the Santa Clara County Fire Department. "We rely on the internet as a critical tool to communicate that information. If the data is throttled on the public's end, their ability to download that information is going to be severely impacted."
Santa Clara County Fire says it saw its wireless data speeds slowed to 1/200th of its usual speeds during the Mendocino Complex Fire.
The chief said, "...rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost."
The county worries that Verizon will likely force public agencies into more expensive plans.
Verizon said the county's fire department was subscribed to an unlimited data plan for government agencies that reduces speeds after a certain allotment.
Their statement to KPIX 5 reads in part, "In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer-support mistake."
Verizon went on to say that this has nothing to do with net neutrality, stating the company normally does lift speed restrictions in emergency situations and that the terms of the plan were miscommunicated my customer service representatives.
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