Fast data is critical to firefighters

Firefighters battling California's largest fire hit by crippling data slowdown slam Verizon's tactics

Service providers in the US have always been able to throttle mobile data after a data cap is reached, even when more robust net neutrality rules were in place.

The company said it has removed "all speed cap restrictions for first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii to support current firefighting and Hurricane Lane efforts". The carrier said that it will allow mission critical first responders to easily upgrade to this new plan at no additional cost.

Unlike that plan, the new unlimited plan being developed by Verizon for first-responders will not restrict speeds "on mobile solutions" no matter how much data is used and "automatically includes priority access".

Chief Bob Drake, of the Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department, said firefighters now rely on cellular data, for everything from updated weather conditions to dispatch information.

Bowden disclosed the throttling incident in a Monday addendum to a larger brief by 22 state attorneys general and other government agencies seeking to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules by the Federal Communications Commission. Those rules are meant to force broadband companies to give all customers comparable service, and many critics have insisted they would have protected firefighters' internet access.

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So, rather than wait for Verizon to get its act together, he said, they came up with an alternative. "(Net neutrality) addresses the issue of content discrimination, and we've made it clear we do not do that.

"What we did was specifically put in the rule about the ability to review activities", Wheeler said.

Still, Verizon conceded, "we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations".

The California State Assembly's Committee on Natural Disaster Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding is holding an informational hearing Friday on "The Verizon Wireless "Data Throttling" of Mendocino Complex Firefighters' Internet Access".

In his testimony, Bowden said the Mendocino Complex Fire was the third time since December 2017 where his department was throttled.

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"We 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", he stated. "We stand united and will work together to ensure this risky practice of throttling first responders will never happen again here in the Golden State".

United States telco Verizon cut back data service to a mobile command and control centre to just 0.5% of normal level after the firefighters exceeded their data package.

"The speed which our plan would have allowed was reduced to one 200th of the full speed of that internet connection", said Capt. Bill Murphy of Santa Clara County Central Fire Dept.

"Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services", Bowden wrote.

OES 5262 is a command-and-control resource that has the "primary function to track, organize and prioritize" response resources during an incident using specialized software and Google Sheets by leveraging leverages cloud computing via broadband Internet connectivity. "I really truly hope there is a greater partnership (with cellular providers) where this does not happen with any public agency".

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