Texas bill aims to stop companies from throttling internet during disasters

Lawmakers in Texas are considering a bill that would stop internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling mobile internet service in areas where a disaster declaration has been issued.

KUT 90.5 in Texas reports that state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D) introduced the bill Friday, which would make it a crime for telecommunications companies to impair mobile service to any customers in disaster areas.

The bill comes after a dispute in California where the state's attorney general sued Verizon after the telecom giant throttled firefighters' internet service during major wildfires last year and suggested that the state buy a better internet connection when first responders complained.

Guerra was not available for comment on the bill Friday, according to KUT.

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"County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon," Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said in August, according to Ars Technica. "This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."

"In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans, ultimately paying significantly more for mission-critical service—even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations," he added

Verizon later acknowledged that it should not have throttled the firefighters' data during the wildfires, citing company policy to not do so during emergency situations.

"Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations," Verizon's statement said in August.

"We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. 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."