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Verizon is throttling data and shaking down fire departments amid the California wildfires

Never change, Verizon.

verizon wireless above unlimited plan 5g
Image: Digital Trends

When net neutrality met its untimely end back in June, there was a lot of speculation around just how long it would be before tech companies started pulling some twisted, Disney-villain level sh*t on its customers. The answer? TWO WEEKS.

In a lawsuit filed by 22 California state attorney generals yesterday, Verizon has been accused of throttling — or intentionally slowing the speed of an Internet service to — a California fire department’s data during the state’s ongoing wildfire crisis. Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden, who filed the addendum as part of a larger suit against the FCC seeking to reinstate net neutrality, claimed that the throttling not only “risked harm to public safety” but may have even delayed response to the massive Mendocino fire in the process.

In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection…had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds.

Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the Department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan.

It’s at this point in the article that I feel compelled to point out that the slogan currently plastered across Verizon’s homepage is as follows:

That’s the sound of irony being crushed under the weight of 2018, in case you’re wondering.

As email records included in the suit revealed, Verizon began throttling the Santa Clara Fire Department as early as June 29th and continued doing so until it upgraded to higher subscription — this despite the fact that the department was already subscribing to Verizon’s “unlimited plan.” Following a series of back and forths with a Verizon government account manager/soulless drone named Silas Buss, things finally came to a head on the night of July 27th (when the Mendocino fire began):

[Fire Department IT officer] Daniel Farrelly wrote a brief email to Buss that night, telling him to “Remove any data throttling, effective immediately.” He emailed Buss again the next morning, saying, “Please work with us. All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind.”

Buss responded that afternoon, suggesting a plan that costs $99.99 for the first 20GB and $8 per gigabyte thereafter. “To get the plan changed immediately, I would suggest calling in the plan change to our customer service team,” Buss wrote.

Hang on, you might have missed that last part. Verizon not only forced a fire department to upgrade its Internet subscription during one of the worst wildfires in California history but made them sit on the phone with customer service before they could get back to saving peoples lives in as efficient a manner as possible. This is the future that Ajit Pai wanted. Never forget that.

Oh, and Verizon’s response? It might as well have been automated.

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.

LOLLLLL. Never change, Verizon.

What do you think? Should Verizon have to answer for this? Let us know in the comments.

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