State Legislators Send Letter to Verizon Demanding the Practice of Throttling Data of First Responders During Disasters Be Stopped

Mike Inman, Deputy of Operations for the River Fire on takes a call after strike teams stop flames from progressing in Scott's Valley in Lake County California on Friday.

Mike Inman, Deputy of Operations for the River Fire, takes a call after strike teams stop flames from progressing on the Mendocino Complex earlier this month. [Photo by Mark McKenna]

Press release from California State Senator Mike McGuire and Others:

In what are now substantiated reports that Verizon Wireless throttled data plans of firefighters while they were battling the Mendocino Complex Fires, California Legislators from across California are calling out the carrier and demanding formal action be taken.

Legislators sent a letter to the CEO of Verizon this afternoon calling for answers and assurances that the safety of first responders, and communities that are threatened by these massive blazes, will not be put in jeopardy so the company can pad their bank accounts.

“This is corporate irresponsibility at its highest and there is no excuse to justify this most egregious behavior,” said Senator Mike McGuire, whose district includes the areas where the Mendocino Complex Fire is burning and the counties the North Bay Firestorm devastated last October. “We need to make sure the safety of our communities, the brave firefighters and all first responders are prioritized over profit for the corporation. We stand united and will work together to ensure this dangerous practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State.”

In court documents submitted in a lawsuit filed against the Federal Communications Commission, Santa Clara County Central Fire District Protection Chief Anthony Bowden described in detail the throttling by Verizon while firefighters responded to the Mendocino Complex Fire – the largest wildfire in our state’s history. After Verizon reduced the fire department’s data speed to 1/200 or less, Bowden’s department reached out to Verizon, who responded that they would need to upgrade their plan at double the cost, and only then would the throttling be lifted.

The letter states: “Lack of communication can be dangerous and deadly. Emergency personnel rely on cell and data technology for critical activities and even small delays can have devastating and life threatening impacts.

Clearly this behavior is a direct violation of your duty under federal statutes governing telecommunications to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.”

State legislators are asking for a response from the Verizon CEO on a series of questions including, how many times, where and when, they have throttled the data technology of first responders during disasters. The legislature will continue to hold hearings on the throttling issue to examine in detail how and why this dangerous practice happened and how the state can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The letter from California State Legislators to Verizon is attached.Click here to read it.

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40 comments

  • Data caps suck! Verizon’s unlimited plan throttles you after 15 gigs, USCellular throttles their unlimited plan at 22 but they cut you back to 2G which don’t work at all. Its not unlimited unless its unlimited.

    • the misadventures of bunjee

      US Cellular is worse than that. They will throttle you if ONE of your devices goes over 2-4 gig limit, yet you have 22 on a total multi-device plan. You have to pay extra to throttle your own device’s data.

      • Certainly they are greedy. Since they didn’t put live and property at risk, how are they worse? Verizon shouldn’t be a company anymore.

  • Verizon must not have given enough campaign contributions to the right politicians for shame on them. They need to take care of business to get the heat off them.

  • Firefighters rule

    True that! Verizon won’t let me keep my first responders discount and unlimited but Home Depot gives their employees a higher discount through Verizon. Pick pocketing brats !

  • I am livid about this. Verizon should have their corporate charter revoked.

  • Ah, our lovely state representatives, don’t want Verizon to screw with fire fighters but perfectly alright for them to screw the rest of us. Thought they were supposed to “represent ” all of us.

  • It should be criminal what they did cutting back on firefighters calls people could have died because of that it’s unthinkable and the state needs to do something about it

    • That’s the problem. The state is there to serve the corporations. It’s a cozy relationship, at least behind closed doors.

      “Many people seem to think that government is an opponent of the corporate agenda”

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mCAIj3YJUmg

      • Government cannot withstand seizure by those with sufficient capital, unless the average person works few enough hours, and earns enough per hour to be an educated participant.

    • People did die. Firefighters died. And if they died while Verizon was throttling them, hold Verizon responsible. Verizon has a clearly defined duty to aid, not hinder, emergency response, which means that they violated their license. That license should be yanked in California at least.

  • I’m sorry to say although I’m appalled, I’m not surprised by this revelation about Verizon, they have always been crooked and leave you feeling ripped off. I swore I would never go back to them but found my hands were tied when I moved to Southern Humboldt and no other companies had any reception out here. I hope their greed didn’t cost anyone there life or health or home or business.

  • Mountain resident

    So my husband who works on many fires and has had a lot of times with restricted usage with Verizon has been told that since we are not all in the industry, as far as not all of us on the plan have the same type of job as him, he is shit out of luck. He is a subcontractor for Verizon, doing emergency work for Verizon to put up emergency infrastructure for emergency phone lines. They shouldn’t be throttling anything, especially in emergency areas. We should not have to call them and say ” hey, today I am working on a fire, do you think you could maybe kick up my data rate since it’s an emergency”. It should already be working at it’s optimal. With a phone bill of$250 a month, it should not be restricted.

  • Mike McGuire needs to be voted out in november.he’s responsible for stealing of the emerald triangles way of life and economy.he’s backing the stealing of our river via potter valley deversion to the russian river and blaming it on the rural community downstream, in turn backing an extortion scheme of rural northern ca.we need to send him job hunting in November along with huffman and woods.theyre ripping us off and when the consequences take affect its gonna be devastating

  • The phone companies are crooked Corporation, but so are the politicians. They want to bleed the people for every penny too. Times they arnt a changin

  • Ding, Ding, Ding!

    For those who didn’t know:

    Cell phone providers can legally throttle customers’ Internet speeds to reduce congestion during peak hours or in densely populated cities; however, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said that throttling may become illegal if companies limit their customers’ Internet speeds in a “deceptive or unfair” fashion.

    • They always throttle, no matter what, so that is an illegal “deceptive and unfair” fashion. That’s all the companies, including US CELLULAR….

  • Well, maybe the Counties should involve themselves…

    I think $1,000,000 a day fines are appropriate for throttling first responders in emergencies. Imagine if it directly resulted in a death.

    $100 is just another day of business to Verizon, so $1,000,000 a day makes sense. (Shout out to Jeff Blanck)

    If they abate their throttling practice before 10 days, they only have to pay 1 day of fines.

    Verizon can also apply for compliance agreements with the county and first responders for future scenarios…

  • There should be no throttling to no one because you never know when an emergency it going to happen! Cell phones have replaced landlines and DSL! Now tell me why they throttle down cell phones in the first place?

  • They should let Verizon towers burn. Screw them. They are raining in profits.

  • 10,000,000 a day after all theyre selling air waves, and plastic made in china with a 500% mark up

  • Cutting data from a group of men and women risking their lives to stop a forest fire has no excuse. Wondering if the cut was responsible for the Utah fire fighters death. He was experienced and would have surely moved away from the air drop if he had received a call. Verizon I hope is punished where it hurts – their damn wallets.

  • All forms of throttling should be illegal. Too bad we allowed poorly regulated capitalism to undermine our government.

  • Uh….NET NEUTRALITY…..anyone?

    • Yes, yes, yes. Although that is not to the issue here.

    • Throttling speed and data caps started back in 2011, and every company had data caps known as throttling by 2014. This has nothing to do with net neutrality law that was just passed recently…once you go over data they throttle you, that’s what you call data caps and should had never been done to start with, it’s all the same crap that’s been going on for years now. Nothing new.

  • Fact is there ARE some companies who seem downright evil, and Verizon is at the top of that list.

    • AT&T is worse and I worked for them years ago. I wonder if all communications companies are like that. At least Verizon here has a signal where others don’t.

  • Were pawns for corporations

    It’s sad that they are doing this to the fire fighters but it’s even worse that they are doing it to normal people and there’s no one to stand up for the average person . Proving we have no rights and no one to help us . Corporations rule the world and the people . Like how cars haven’t gotten more gas efficient so we buy more gas . Or appliances that use more electricity . Or phones that you pay for cell service and they are allowed to give you half the amount of cell reception. America the great . I love this country but we are all just pawns and it’s sad .

  • Maybe a dumb question but wouldn’t phone calls be different then data? Still a messed up thing to do but they are a corporation, not really surprised, like the guy who jacked up the price on aids medication i believe it was.

  • Glad to see so many comments about this- the recent update on CA’s Net Neutrality Bill- which had it’s teeth pulled in June- is now back to it’s original form and close to passing:

    Last April: NOTE: The Register is a technology news source that has been around for some time.
    Sometimes, ya gotta go abroad to get a good picture of an issue.

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/04/16/net_neutrality_advocates_freak_out_as_lobbyists_undermine_california_bill/

    NOW: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/07/californias-net-neutrality-bill-strong-again-because-you-spoke-out

  • Like i said allways some body and if not every one on this trying to make something off it

  • How many letters and phone calls from the constituents are ignored while the lobbyists are promoted?
    How many lobbyists cross over into other areas? (throttle everybody through net neutrality equality + forest management and restrictions that burn the forests down + epa fines and carbon taxing + …. )
    Isn’t it strange how our forests are so badly maintained they burn to the ground, while simultaneously, emergency services have never achieved an uncapped status?
    The cherry on the pie? The repush for the net neutrality that is anything but neutral and is in no way even related to the issue in this article.
    Hmmmm, agenda much?

    100 points to those who can name the connections.

  • Direct your concerns here: lowell.mcadam@verizon.com

  • So for people who haven;t worked with telecom contracts and priority let me enlighten you as to what part of the problem is.

    If you have a consumer contract you are the lowest priority on a network. Your paying a lower rate for usage, in exchange you have less priority over your calls and data transactions.

    If you have a Business Contract your priority is higher, So is the price you pay. You have priority over Consumers, who will be bumped/throttled during your peak times (generally 7am-6pm range). though this is still tiered based on the line types and level bandwidth being purchased.

    If you have a Government Contract, like military/police You generally buy top level contracts, these are usually organizational contracts as well. Meaning your organization is buying guaranteed bandwidth/leased lines/or even dedicated fiber.

    So why is there a problem here? You have a large number of Phones and devices that are on plans not classified as high priority. You have alot of consumer plans mixed in cause they are cheap or people want control. So the network has zero clue who its throttling and why. The big problem here seems stems from a managment problem. Why are critical devices for communication of first responders not on the correct types of contracts? Is it a matter of a lack of knowledge, or is a lack of budget possibly?

    Believe me, I am not a big fan of the abuse people get from telecom companies. (it really is bad) However the discussion of network priority and communications rules are not foreign, its a problem most data networks have. Not to mention the long discussion of net neutrality. Which this is a great example of why data really shouldn’t be throttled/dropped. Cause you generally don’t know the value of that data. Even with traffic being classified by type. That still doesn’t quite give a full picture of its importance in all situations.

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