San Francisco Chronicle: Verizon, under fire for throttling firefighters’ data speed, lifts caps for first responders

Friday, August 24, 2018

San Francisco Chronicle


By Kevin Fagan

Verizon executives came to the Capitol on Friday to get a tongue lashing over the cell phone giant’s throttling of data service for firefighters battling the massive Mendocino Complex fire — but en route they nipped the scolding in the bud by abruptly lifting all data caps on emergency first responders.

The policy went into effect for fire-ravaged California and Hurricane Lane-lashed Hawaii on Thursday, the company said, and a fuller plan for the rest of the nation will be rolled out next week. Public agencies will be able to switch to the new plan at no additional cost.

“It was a little surprising to hear, and the right thing to do,” said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who had called for a hearing Friday before the committee he co-chairs to investigate Verizon’s decision to drastically slow data speed. A firefighting agency said that move put their first responders in danger because they were relying on the service to communicate during the fight against the fires.

Levine’s committee went ahead with its session anyway, hearing from Verizon brass as well as leaders of the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, whose data was throttled last month as they were in the thick of helping fight the Mendocino Complex, the biggest wildfire in state history. But with Verizon’s surprise announcement, the conversation switched from how to address the individual problem that the Santa Clara County firefighters faced to how to craft future policy preventing similar trouble for other emergency responders.