Verizon tries to douse criticism, touts "priority access" for first responders

Firefighters light a backfire while battling the Mendocino Complex Fire near Potter Valley Calif. on Aug. 9

"In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us".

California lawmakers are holding an informational hearing Friday at the state Capitol to discuss what happened.

A U.S. mobile network has come under criticism after severely limiting service to firefighters battling the biggest wildfire in California's history.

"In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans ultimately paying significantly more for mission critical service - even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations", Chief Anthony Bowden said in a sworn declaration.

The revelations, which were first reported by Ars Technica, are buried in an addendum to a brief filed in support of 21 states and the District of Columbia, which together filed a lawsuit this year that essentially seeks to restore rules known as net neutrality. The filing alleges that the slowdown was caused by the FCC's action, which allows telecommunications to slow Internet speed to selected customers.

Net neutrality rules seek to prevent internet service providers and broadband carriers such as Verizon from favoring one website or service over others by granting unequal loading speeds, or by blocking or slowing content. Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Nancy Pelosi, along with 11 other Northern California-based members of Congress, demanded an investigation from the Federal Trade Commission. It added that the incident had nothing to do with net neutrality.

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Santa Clara County Central firefighters saw their internet data flow slow down dramatically. She said the Santa Clara County fire department initially encountered the throttling because it had subscribed to an unlimited data plan for government agencies that reduces speeds after a certain allotment of data is used.

The fire department has an unlimited government plan with Verizon, but the company slowed, or throttled, data speed once the agency reached a certain threshold, Bowden wrote in an August 20 court filing.

The fire chief said the incident with Verizon highlighted the importance of ensuring emergency responders have access to quick data that could prove lifesaving. It added that it has a policy of removing data speed restrictions in emergency situations.

Verizon wasn't playing favorites when it came to the data that the firefighters received.

After a Verizon representative informed the firefighters they needed to upgrade their service to a $99.99 per month plan, doubling the bill, the department complied, and service improved. It also said that next week, it will unveil a new plan for first responders that will include unlimited data, no caps, and priority access.

Rudolph Reyes, Verizon's west region vice president and associate general counsel, read a statement saying the company "didn't live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire". "For that, we are truly sorry. We stand united and will work together to ensure this unsafe practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State".

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