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California has seen a lot of wildfires break out this summer, and the Santa Clara County Fire department has been stretched out trying to fight that fire. However, there efforts were greatly hampered due to slow internet (or rather due to data throttling) by Verizon.

In a legal challenge to the FCC’s net neutrality repeal case, the Santa Clara County Fire Marshal Anthony Bowden, filed documents explaining how Verizon actions of slowing their devices speeds during the fire crisis compromised their firefighting response.

In the documents, Bowden writes that the Santa Clara County Fire department had bought unlimited data plan from Verizon for support of a unit’s connection. After the unit consumed about 25GB, the speed was throttled down “to 1/200, or less.”

He says the slow internet “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services,” The unit’s fire responders were unable to properly track and route the firefighting resources as the internet was very slow to allow timely operations.

The firefighters reached out to Verizon and let them know their data throttling was hampering an on-going firefighting mission and thus placed a lot of lives and properties at risk. Despite Verizon getting that communication, it still continued throttling the fire station’s internet.

In the end, the fire department had to sign up for a new, albeit more expensive, plan for normal speeds to be restored. ISPs were given the green light to start throttling internet speeds after the repeal of net neutrality rules took effect. However, Verizon and other major ISPs started throttling unlimited plans when user’s consumption hits certain threshold long before the repeal case won.

The Verge reached out to Verizon by email explaining what conspired and caused the slow speed at the fire department. The ISP acknowledged that it should have immediately lifted the throttling once it got communication that its actions were compromising an ongoing fire rescue mission, but it did not. The email by Verizon to The Verge reads in part:

This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court.

We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan. Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle.

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. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.

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