Dems press FCC to explain Verizon's throttling of California firefighters battling wildfires

Dems press FCC to explain Verizon's throttling of California firefighters battling wildfires

Two Democratic lawmakers are pressing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to look into Verizon's throttling of a fire department's unlimited data plan during recent wildfires in California.

Sen. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyGreen New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing We can have a Green New Deal, and air travel too 2020 Dem slams Green New Deal: As realistic as Trump's claim that Mexico will pay for wall MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooDems urge regulators to reject T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Dems to mull bills to overturn Trump ObamaCare actions T-Mobile, Sprint step up merger push MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the federal agency on Friday requesting an explanation of Verizon’s actions during the fire.

Verizon admitted last week that it mistakenly throttled the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s data while they battled the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest fire ever recorded in California.

Verizon said it would review the error.

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Santa Clara County fire chief Anthony Bowden said that the department had contacted Verizon to complain about the throttling but was told the throttle would be removed if the county switched “to a new data plan at more than twice the cost.”

Markey and Eshoo say that despite the telecommunication company's admission, the FCC needs to probe the matter further.

“While Verizon announced that it would no longer impose data speed restrictions on first responders fighting the fire, this episode raises a number of questions about how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to address these critical threats to public safety,” they wrote in their letter.

"We believe broadband providers, such as Verizon, will increasingly engage in more troubling practices like throttling our brave first responders experienced as they worked to protect the public," the two cautioned.

Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose and Silicon Valley, joined with 22 states and the District of Columbia last week in asking a federal appeals court to make the FCC reinstate its popular 2015 net neutrality rules.

The rules bar internet companies from blocking or slowing down websites, or from creating paid fast lanes. Under its Republican leadership, the FCC has said that the Federal Trade Commission should be the arbiter of consumer issues with telecommunications companies. 

The Democratic lawmakers on Friday pushed back on FCC assertions that the FTC should handle matters like the firefighters' dispute with Verizon, given the FTC's comparatively weaker ability to enforce regulations.

“This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court. We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan,” Verizon said in response.