(SACRAMENTO) – Legislation by Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) to prohibit mobile data service providers from limiting internet traffic to first responders during an emergency was approved today by the California State Legislature. AB 1699 (Levine) is the latest action by the California Legislature to ensure that first responders are given unfettered access to cellular data, which is a critical tool to protect the lives and property of all Californians. In 2018, Levine co-chaired the Assembly Select Committee on Natural Disaster Response, Recovery & Rebuilding, which investigated reports of data throttling among first responders. That hearing led Levine to introduce AB 1699 earlier this year.
Every year, first responders are deployed across the state to respond to declared states of emergency. During these emergencies, local first responders often utilize the statewide mutual aid system whereby officials can request support from neighboring jurisdictions. The effective deployment of the mutual aid system requires a high degree of coordination and real-time updates via specialized wireless communications equipment.
In 2018, the Mendocino Complex Fire, then the largest wildfire complex in state history, burned over 400,000 acres, destroyed 157 residences and required deployment of first responders from across the state. While combatting the Mendocino Complex Fire, Santa Clara County Fire officials experienced data throttling of their communications equipment by their service provider. As noted by Anthony Bowden, the county’s fire chief, “the throttling had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services” and impeded the “ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services.”
“Broadband internet service is an essential component of public safety communications for all types of emergencies, from local calls to major wildfire disasters,” said Jeff Meston, president of California Fire Chiefs Association. “Reliable access to real-time data allows us to quickly deploy resources where they are needed most and protect the safety of our citizens and first responders. Emergency response efforts should never be hampered by broadband throttling. While one long-term solution to this issue is a dedicated broadband network for public safety communications, we support this legislation to ensure unlimited broadband access during an emergency, regardless of an agency’s data plan, and prohibit Internet Service Providers from reducing broadband service.”
“First responders are our first and last line of defense during an emergency,” said Assemblymember Marc Levine. “When seconds can mean the difference between life and death, first responders must have unfettered access to the telecommunication services they need to protect the lives and property of Californians. AB 1699 will ensure that first responders are given every tool necessary to keep Californians safe.”
AB 1699 now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom for final consideration.