Councilman Wants Explanation About 'Throttling' of First Responders

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles city councilman said today he wants representatives of the country's major mobile data carriers to appear before the council and explain their policies on “throttling” public safety departments during emergencies.

The move comes in response to complaints by the Santa Clara Fire Department, which reported a slowdown in Verizon data service earlier this month while the agency was fighting the Mendocino Complex fire.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden detailed the experience as part of a lawsuit filed recently by 22 states and the District of Columbia that challenges the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, which prevented internet service providers from purposely slowing the data or “throttling” customers and discriminating against or favoring certain Internet traffic.

Verizon officials said this week, however, the slowdown had nothing to do with net neutrality rules, but occurred because the department had exceeded its allotted amount of high-speed wireless data included in its service plan.

Councilman Paul Krekorian introduced a motion calling for staff experts from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile to appear before the full City Council to discuss the issue. He also asked that the City Attorney's Office file a “friend of the court” brief in support of the net neutrality lawsuit.

As firefighters were battling the Medocino fire -- the largest wildfire in state history -- the Santa Clara County Fire Department experienced a significant slowdown in its cell phone and mobile data performance. Bowden claimed in court documents that the fire department had purchased an unlimited data plan from Verizon, but the company started throttling speeds to 1/200th of the regular speed or less after the unit hit 25GB of use.

The slowdown “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services,” Bowden said.

The company did not restore the department's data speeds until the agency upgraded its plan at double the price despite already having an unlimited data plan, he said.

Verizon has since said it will change its policies for public safety departments during emergencies.

“In supporting first responders in the Mendocino fire, 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. For that, we are truly sorry. And we're making every effort to ensure that it never happens again,” according to a statement from Verizon.

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.”

Krekorian's motion also raised concerns about members of the general public being throttled during emergencies and said that although Verizon has changed its policies, it “doesn't reflect the complexity of an emergency situation and the needs of the pubic in a disaster: what about the thousands of people who may be turning to their phones for evacuation orders who may be similarly, artificially throttled as a result of carrier plan design who may be unable to access life-saving information about a disaster?”

Multiple members of Congress, including Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, wrote a letter Friday to the Federal Trade Commission demanding an investigation into Verizon's data-throttling of emergency workers.

Photos: Getty Images

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