Santa Clara firefighters accuse Verizon of throttling data during deadly Mendocino Complex Fires

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County's fire chief says Verizon put the safety of firefighters at risk when their devices were throttled while battling the deadly Mendocino Complex Fires. The department now joins the CPUC and 22 states in a brief targeting the business.

Verizon's data throttling happened shortly after the Mendocino Complex fires erupted early last month.

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Throttleing is the practice of internet service providers deliberately restricting data transfers.

Santa Clara County Central firefighters saw their internet data flow slow down dramatically.

"The speed which our plan would have allowed was reduced to one 200th of the full speed of that internet connection," said Fire Captain Bill Murphy.

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Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams puts it another way. "That's below dial up, you know, putting them back twenty to thirty years in terms of internet access really."

Officials say this happened while the county's firefighters were battling what would become the biggest wildfire in the state's history.

"Their ability to do that was significantly impacted by the data throttling. Our personnel resorted to using their personal devices to overcome the issue," said Murphy.

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District Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a Court filing that Verizon officials said his department had exceeded its plan limit.

A command and commjunications rig called 0ES 5262 was barely functioning.

In a email from the Fire Department to Verizon, an I-T officer demanded, "Remove any data throttling on OES 5262 immediately."

Verizon responded by suggesting the department upgrade its plan by more than doubling its bill to "99 dollars and 99 cents a month."

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"It's just ludicrous. Their answer is just upgrade your plan," said Williams.

County Supervisor Cindy Chavez added, "The idea that Verizon or another provider can opt in or opt out in helping us do what the public demands is appalling."

Verizon issued a written statement which says in part, "We have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction. This was a customer support mistake."

Get the latest on the wildfires burning across California here.
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