Verizon throttled the data on cellphones used by Santa Clara County Fire Department firefighters as they were battling the deadly Northern California’s Mendocino Fire blaze, significantly impeding their communication in a time of crisis, according to a Wednesday report from The San Jose Mercury News. Department Chief Tony Bowden claimed that Verizon cut his team’s internet speed to 1/200th of its usual capacity after firefighters exceeded a predetermined limit, and that an account manager assigned to them refused to restore it during a time of obvious crisis in an attempt to make them pay almost three times more than their regular rate. In a letter submitted to a district appeals court as an addendum to a call for net neutrality, Bowden wrote that Verizon’s actions “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services.” A spokesperson for the department expanded on that claim, noting that firefighters use data-heavy applications like Google Docs to provide urgent updates—and that without data from Verizon, communication was nearly impossible.
A Verizon spokesperson decried the account manager’s handling of the situation, but said that the issue had nothing to do with net neutrality. “Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” she told Mercury News. “In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer-support mistake.”