Verizon is touting its commitment to firefighters and public safety in a new ad, released weeks after Verizon throttled the Santa Clara County fire department while it was fighting California’s largest-ever wildfire.
“From coast to coast and everywhere in between, people rely on us to ensure they can communicate when they need it most,” Verizon said in an introduction to the new ad.
Verizon Chief Network Officer Nicki Palmer discusses the Verizon network in the ad, saying, “we are constantly innovating, from a dedicated lane on our network just for first responders to cell towers on wheels. We can even fly cells on drones so communications stay up. In times of crisis, their calls go through and they can get their job done.”
The ad also says that “more first responders in America rely on Verizon than any other network.”
Throttling of “unlimited” data
Verizon’s treatment of fire department mobile plans came under scrutiny in August when the Santa Clara County fire department detailed several incidents of Verizon throttling an “unlimited” data plan during disaster responses. Verizon called its failure to lift throttling restrictions during a wildfire response “a customer support mistake,” but the department argues that Verizon is violating net neutrality.
Verizon subsequently promised that firefighters would get a free upgrade to a new plan with unlimited data, no speed caps, and priority access. Verizon said it would introduce the plan more than a month ago, but it’s not clear if that has happened yet.
We asked Verizon for an update on the new unlimited plan today and will update this story if we get an answer. Verizon did tell The Verge last month that “We’ve delivered new plan terms for public safety to the various national and state agencies that approve state and local contracts. Once accepted by the states, customers can take advantage of these plans.”
Verizon has also selectively lifted throttling during some disasters. For example, the carrier lifted speed caps for first responders in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia last month during Hurricane Florence.
The new Verizon ad never mentions throttling but includes interviews with several firefighters who appear to be satisfied with their Verizon service. Battalion Chief TJ McLamb, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, is in an extended version of the ad to praise Verizon for providing a booster device that strengthens the signal during times of high demand.
“Any time we have a disaster, we typically see a real sharp increase in peak demand for cell coverage,” and that demand from the general population can degrade wireless service for public safety personnel, McLamb said.
“As emergency responders… we want to know that when it’s time to use it, it works,” McLamb said. “By Verizon providing us with this [booster] tool, it’s not just helping out the responders, it’s helping out the community.”
A fire captain named Martin Mullen, whose department or location is not identified by Verizon in the ad, describes the importance of strong cellular performance during disasters. “No matter how much we train, the last thing you want in a disaster is to lose communications,” he said. “Without communications, people get hurt.”