Verizon produces ad touting their services for first responders after throttling becomes an issue

While fighting one of the largest wildfires in California’s recorded history, the company reduced the data rate for a fire department’s account to 1/200th of normal.

Mendocino Complex of Fires
The Mendocino Complex of Fires. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office photo.

Six weeks after the Santa Clara Fire Department said Verizon reduced their data rate for a command and control unit to 1/200th of normal while fighting a huge fire, the company has purchased time on television networks with a commercial titled “Enabling Heroes”.

The commercial which ran during a football game this weekend showing people that are represented as firefighters, has a spokesmodel saying, “In times of crisis their calls go through and they can get their jobs done”, and the company has “a dedicated lane on our network just for first responders”.

The fire department personnel staffing Santa Clara’s OES Incident Support Unit 5262 earlier this year while battling the Mendocino Complex of Fires, one of the largest blazes in the history of California, knew they had an unlimited data plan for the equipment used to track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed.

While fighting the fire the department discovered the Verizon data connection for the command and control unit was being throttled. Data rates had been reduced to 1/200th, or less, of the previous speeds. Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a court filing that the “reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively”. The County has signed on to a legal effort to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

While the fire was burning, the department explained to Verizon the problem and asked the company to restore their data capability, but it did not happen quickly. After going around and around for a while, eventually the department’s administrative section had to work with Verizon and sign up for a different plan.

In the last couple of years the four major cell phone providers have advertised “unlimited” data plans, but they ARE ALL LIMITED in various ways.

The department thought their plan described as “unlimited” actually meant that. Critics say they should have read the fine print in their contract, while others say Verizon should have immediately restored their data and worried about the contract issues later after the smoke cleared. A comment in one of our articles about this issue looked as if it could have been written by a lobbyist for Verizon.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.