As the wildfires continue to burn in California, firefighters are risking their lives to save as many people as possible. They are battling extreme heat and dangerous circumstances to try and contain the fires which have been burning for weeks, and have now covered more than 400,00 acres.
While they fight the fires, the emergency service "relies upon Internet-based systems to provide crucial and time sensitive public safety services," Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said in a new lawsuit.
But according to Bowden, Verizon interfered with their ability to do so. He claims that due to net neutrality, the provider slowed down or throttled the department's data service while they tried to coordinate their emergency response.
"The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fuel engines, aircraft, and bulldozers," Bowden continued.
It wasn't until the department paid for a higher plan with more data that their service was restored.
"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services," Bowden wrote. "Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."
Emails were released that showed the conversation between the station and Verizon representative Silas Buss.
"Remove any data throttling ... effective immediately," Dan Farrelly, a Fire Department IT officer wrote. "Please work with us. All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind."
"It's $99.99 for the first 20GB and $8/GB thereafter," Buss wrote. "To get the plan changed immediately, I would suggest calling in the plan change to our customer service team. ... Let me know if you have any questions -- I'll be available by phone for at least the next hour or so."
The fact that emergency services were left unable to do their jobs because a provider wanted them to get a better plan didn't sit well with many people.
Yep. One of the largest wildfires in CA history, and Verizon tried to upsell them a fix to the throttle.— FlyinShoes (@FlyinShoes) August 22, 2018
... I have no words— Sam Mazza (@AthleticSeafood) August 22, 2018
Hard to think of a situation in which throttling someone’s data plan is legit evil but Verizon found it https://t.co/RTzbcFxNsT— Kashmir Hill (@kashhill) August 22, 2018
“Ultimately, the fire department had to sign up for a new, more expensive plan before speeds were restored.” Incredible. https://t.co/vtfmwVQvcJ— Shelby Grad (@shelbygrad) August 22, 2018
When the concept of a common humanity fails in the face of idiocy and capitalism— k.t.w. (@katasher) August 22, 2018
Wow! Can not fathom the depth of greed that would make something like this happen.— Ramona Hall (@jewelrymavin3) August 22, 2018
In an email to Mashable, Verizon said the "situation has nothing to do with net neutrality," instead calling it "a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan."
Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations.
In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.
Regardless of their reasoning, it's not a great look for a company to withhold services to get more money from the fire department trying to save the state of California.