California has been ravaged by unprecedented wildfires this summer, and as the brave people of the state’s fire department tried to contain the damage enacted by the fires, they encountered an unexpected problem that proved to be very troublesome: data throttling.
The questionable tactic was revealed in court documents filed as part of a legal challenge against the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. The documents, first discovered by Ars Technica, paint an unsightly picture of Verizon Wireless throttling the fire department’s devices used to track and move resources to fight the wildfires.
Santa Clara County Fire Marshal Anthony Bowden went into detail about how speeds slowed down to a snail’s pace, creating an unforeseen hurdle for the firefighters. Speeds dropped “to 1/200, or less” of the normal speeds, making the devices usable.
Making matters worse, Verizon continued to throttle the unlimited data plan even after firefighters alerted the service that it was impeding their jobs. Multiple emails were exchanged between the fire department and Verizon with the frustration of the firefighters seeping through. “All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind,” read one email.
Firefighters were forced to used their own devices during the issues experienced with Verizon’s data plan to do their job. Verizon did not end the throttling until the fire department upgraded to a new plan that cost twice the amount as the original one.
The case is being used to argue the effects of net neutrality rules being repealed, and rightly so. Without net neutrality, carriers are free to disperse their data services any which way they see fit. One of the ways was to cap the California’s fire department “unlimited data” plan during a wildfire bout that made their jobs infinitely more difficult.
Verizon has since responded in multiple statements explaining it was a mistake to throttle the fire department’s data plan, while trying to separate the throttling fiasco and its net neutrality implications.