Verizon officials were contrite and apologetic during a California State Assembly committee hearing that was convened Friday to examine mobile Internet throttling experienced by firefighters during recent blazes.
“We all make mistakes from time to time, the true measure of leadership is how soon we admit it, own it,” Rudy Reyes told the Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding after reading from a statement that the company released hours earlier.
In that statement, Verizon said it would be introducing a “new plan” with truly unlimited data and “priority access” for first responders nationwide.
“As of yesterday, we removed all speed cap restrictions for first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii to support current firefighting and Hurricane Lane efforts,” the company said. “Further, in the event of another disaster, Verizon will lift restrictions on public safety customers, providing full network access.”
The executives spoke shortly after hearing from Santa Clara County Fire Chief Tony Bowden who said that his agency had experienced similar throttling in December 2017. The Santa Clara department had tried to address it with the Verizon accounts manager at the time.
However, more recently, when county fire officials were responding to the Mendocino Complex fire (which is still ongoing) and the agency had its bandwidth substantially reduced on a mobile command center before the caps were briefly lifted, it was hit with throttling yet again.
This problem is best illustrated in a June 2018 email from Captain Justin Stockman to Deputy Chief Steve Prziborowski, which was made public recently in a federal court filing.
In that message, Stockman explained throttling as being when “the device that can normally act like a modern broadband internet connection is slowed to the point of acting more like an AOL dial-up modem from 1995.”
This is not the first time we have had this issue. In December of 2017 while deployed to the Prado Mobilization Center supporting a series of large wildfires we had the same device with the same sim card also throttled. I was able to work through Eric Prosser at the time to have service to the device restored and Eric communicated that Verizon had properly re-categorized the device as truly “unlimited”. In the email below Verizon is stating that they can restore the device for an extra $2/month. I obviously lack the authority to make such an approval. If we could get Verizon [to get] that approval I would appreciate it.
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During the Friday hearing, Bowden specifically said that his staff was still unable to reach this accounts manager, and they had to call the ordinary customer support line.
So, rather than wait for Verizon to get its act together, he said, they came up with an alternative.
“We overnight shipped another unit’s cards and were able to get that up and running by the next day,” he said. “They are continually able to use that redundant device today.”
Later, he expressed his polite frustration to Verizon officials, who were in the room.
“I can tell you how to run a fire department, but I can’t tell you how to run an Internet service provider,” he said.
Reyes also reiterated the company’s position that this throttling had nothing to do with net neutrality—he emphasized that net neutrality had to do with content prioritization or de-prioritization, not data caps.
“We’ve made it clear that we do not do that, that the industry does not do that,” he said. “This situation is not that.”
In court filings, Santa Clara County officials have previously disputed that assertion.
As Ars reported previously, Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District are among two-dozen local or state government agencies that sued the Federal Communications Commission in a bid to overturn the repeal of net neutrality rules that outlawed throttling and blocking. Verizon’s throttling of the Santa Clara fire department was described in detail in court documents filed as evidence in the case.
No other mobile providers agreed to testify before the Natural Disaster Committee.