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Verizon admits error in throttling California firefighters' service

Demonstrators, supporting net neutrality, protest a plan by the FCC to repeal restrictions on internet service providers
Protesters rally in Chicago in support of net neutrality. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Verizon said Tuesday that it made a customer service mistake by not quickly restoring high-speed wireless service to a fire truck that had gone over its data cap, but insists net neutrality is not to blame.

Why it matters: The Santa Clara, Calif. Fire Department said that during the effort to fight the recent Mendocino Complex fire, one of its trucks, equipped with Verizon wireless service, had its connection speeds dramatically slowed, and was unable to restore full-speed service until it agreed to take out a higher-speed plan.

The allegations, reported earlier Tuesday by Ars Technica, were made as part of a suit by a number of states and other entities to reverse the FCC's move to end net neutrality.

"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," Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration, per Ars Technica.

Verizon issued the following statement in response:

"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. Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle. Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. 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."
— Verizon
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