Why it matters: Firefighters battling California's largest ever wildfire had their data speeds throttled by Verizon. When they requested that Verizon remove the throttling, Verizon instead tried to sell them a more expensive plan. Legislators want to know why.
Members of the California State Assembly are meeting today in an effort to discover why Verizon throttled the mobile data speeds for firefighters in Santa Clara County. Verizon had previously said it was a customer service error but fire officials and lawmakers aren't buying that. The hearing will include comments from fire department staff and Verizon representatives.
While fighting the Mendocino Complex fire, a Santa Clara Fire Department vehicle had its data speed throttled to 1/200th of its normal speed. Firefighters use this vehicle and cloud service like Google Docs to coordinate response efforts as fire conditions change. The department did have an unlimited plan, but once they went over their 25GB of high-speed data, they were throttled.
Despite requests to Verizon to remove the throttling for public safety purposes, Verizon instead tried to sell the department a more expensive plan without throttling.
The goal of today's hearing is to answer three key questions regarding Verizon's actions. In a statement to local reporters at The Mercury News, Marc Levine, a member of the Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding, stated that "we need to know exactly what happened during the Mendocino Complex Fire. We need to know why they were throttled, why it continued and why it was not resolved. The Mendocino Complex Fire was not a fire drill. This was unforgivable.”
California legislators are considering new policies to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future. They will also explore whether or not the state of California could have intervened on the department's behalf.
Fire Chief Anthony Bowden believes the Trump Administration's repeal of net neutrality legislation is what allowed Verizon to throttle the connection in the first place. However, Levine likely won't bring up that topic in today's hearing.