Verizon throttled a fire department’s data speeds while it was fighting a wildfire

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Wireless carriers throttle the data speeds of their customers after they cross a certain threshold of usage in a single month, and it seems that fire departments aren’t immune to this.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department says that its data was throttled by Verizon Wireless while it was fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire, an ongoing wildfire in California. The fire department paid for an unlimited data plan but discovered that the data connection for OES 5262, a fire department vehicle, had been slowed to 1/200 or less than the previous speeds.

OES 5262 is a vehicle that’s used to “track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed,” explained Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden.

The IT staff of the fire department contacted Verizon and asked that the throttling be lifted for public safety purposes, but Verizon declined to do so. Instead, Verizon representatives said that they would only lift the throttling after the fire department contacted Verizon’s billing department and switched to a new data plan at more than twice the cost.

Bowden wrote about the issue as part of an addendum to a legal document recently filed by 22 state attorneys general, the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, and other groups in an effort to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules.

After news of this situation came out, Verizon acknowledged that it should have lifted the fire department’s throttling. “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,” the carrier said to Ars Technica. It added that it’s reviewing the situation and will fix any issues in the future.

It’s always frustrating when your data speeds get throttled on your unlmited data plan, but this situation is even worse, especially considering that the fire department asked to have the throttling lifted so that it could provide emergency services and Verizon declined. It remains to be seen how the government agencies’ attempt to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules, but at least Verizon has acknowledged that it made a customer support error and that it should have lifted the throttling.

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