Latest News

Stung by criticism over wildfire response, Verizon lifts data ‘cap’ on first responders

Helicopter uses water drop to control Mendocino Complex

The Mendocino Complex fire, the largest in California’s history, had scorched about 350,000 acres by August 13, authorities reported. This video shows an aerial water drop on the Mendocino Complex fires.
Up Next
The Mendocino Complex fire, the largest in California’s history, had scorched about 350,000 acres by August 13, authorities reported. This video shows an aerial water drop on the Mendocino Complex fires.

Verizon, heavily criticized for “throttling” a Northern California fire agency’s communications equipment, said Friday it’s lifted data-speed restrictions on all first responders dealing with the state’s barrage of wildfires.

The telecommunications giant said the decision also affects emergency agencies helping with Hurricane Lane, which brought severe flooding to Hawaii on Friday. It added that it would roll out a new unlimited data plan with “priority access” for emergency agencies nationwide.

“We will make it easy to upgrade service at no additional cost,” the company’s senior vice president, Mike Maiorana, said in a prepared statement.

At a legislative hearing in Sacramento on Friday, a second Verizon representative apologized for the “throttling” incident and vowed it would never happen again.

“As everything has been brought to light, as you would imagine, there’s a lot of people within Verizon ensuring that we put the right steps forward so that we don’t have this type of situation happen again,” Dave Hickey, the company’s vice president for business and government sales, said at an informational hearing of the Assembly Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery and Rebuilding.

Earlier this week, the Santa Clara County Fire Protection District revealed that the equipment on a mobile communications van dispatched to the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest in the state’s history, was rendered ineffective because data speeds were reduced practically to nothing. The equipment had fallen victim to a practice known as “throttling,” in which data speeds are slashed after an agency reaches its data limit for the month.

Santa Clara brought the van to the Mendocino fire to help route fire-engine traffic and other logistical tasks. Despite pleas from the firefighters, Verizon lifted the cap on data speeds only after Santa Clara agreed to switch to a more expensive data plan. In the meantime, the firefighters borrowed phones from other agencies to keep communications flowing.

“Our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire,” Maiorana said. “For that, we are truly sorry.”

The Santa Clara fiasco was disclosed in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., where a group of states are suing the Federal Communications Commission over the issue of net neutrality. Verizon said the Santa Clara problem had nothing to do with net neutrality — the doctrine, introduced during the Obama administration, that requires internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally. The FCC has repealed net neutrality.

  Comments