As California firefighters battled the state's largest wildfire, Verizon throttled their data

A Northern California fire department says Verizon slowed its wireless data speeds to a crawl last month, re...

Posted: Aug 23, 2018 7:22 AM
Updated: Aug 23, 2018 7:22 AM

A Northern California fire department says Verizon slowed its wireless data speeds to a crawl last month, rendering some of its high-tech tracking equipment almost useless as firefighters battled the largest wildfire in state history.

In an August 20 court filing, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said his department relies on internet services to keep track of fast-moving fires and coordinate resources and efforts among emergency personnel.

"The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fuel engines, aircraft, and buIldozers," Bowden wrote.

This requires a lot of data. Bowden wrote that his department's OES 5262 mobile communication center sent and received five to 10 gigabytes of data through a wireless router each day while tracking the response to the Mendocino Complex Fire.

That fire has burned 406,532 acres in Northern California.

Service slowed to dial-up speed

The department had an unlimited government plan with Verizon, but the company would slow, or "throttle," data speed once the agency crossed a certain threshold, Bowden wrote.

"In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection for OES 5262 was being throttled by Verizon, and data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds. These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262's ability to function effectively," Bowden wrote.

Santa Clara County Fire Capt. Bill Murphy told CNN that the department's connection speed dropped to what you would expect from a dial-up service, making simple tasks like sending an email or updating a Google document almost impossible.

Verizon: 'We should have lifted speed restriction'

The document included an email chain that showed that the fire department had been working with Verizon to solve the throttling problem before the Mendocino Fires started and that Verizon did not lift the data caps until the fire department paid for a more expensive plan.

In a statement to CNN, Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said the company made a mistake.

"Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations," she said in an email. "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."

She said Verizon is reviewing the situation and "will fix any issues going forward."

Bowden said that his firefighters had to use other agencies' internet connections or their own personal devices to keep their communication system running.

Bowden's statement is included in an addendum to a brief in a federal lawsuit to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules.

Flato told CNN that this is a customer service issue. "This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court," she said.

An FCC spokeswoman stressed the importance of cooperation.

"It's important for communications providers and public safety agencies to work together closely to ensure that agencies have communications services that meet their needs, especially in emergency situations. In addition, we strongly encourage communications providers to waive data allotments in situations involving emergency response," she said.

Firefighters found workaround

Murphy said that firefighters were able to work around the problem by using their own devices, but he is concerned about what will happen if others see their data throttled during an emergency.

"We're putting a lot of information out there for the public to receive and the expectation is that they will get it in a timely fashion," he said. "We believe it's very important that the public have unrestricted access so they can get the information we need them to get."

Murphy says the department still uses Verizon and has added a second provider to ensure redundancies in their system.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 540277

Reported Deaths: 7022
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1125861667
Ramsey46611846
Dakota41151414
Anoka37226413
Washington24233273
Stearns20532215
St. Louis16380295
Scott15455116
Wright14317124
Olmsted1256996
Sherburne1020879
Carver946043
Clay765189
Rice7408100
Blue Earth676840
Kandiyohi618879
Crow Wing591786
Chisago535648
Otter Tail531673
Benton518396
Mower446032
Winona434549
Douglas432170
Goodhue429871
Nobles396147
Morrison382859
McLeod381154
Beltrami365057
Isanti360159
Polk358966
Itasca356851
Steele346614
Becker344848
Lyon341848
Carlton322152
Freeborn319429
Pine305321
Nicollet298542
Brown289139
Mille Lacs269547
Le Sueur265022
Todd264830
Cass241426
Meeker227037
Waseca225820
Martin209029
Wabasha19793
Roseau194018
Dodge16794
Hubbard167641
Renville167443
Redwood163335
Houston161814
Cottonwood151420
Fillmore15039
Pennington148419
Chippewa143636
Faribault141619
Wadena139820
Sibley132110
Aitkin126736
Kanabec124921
Watonwan12429
Rock120918
Jackson113010
Yellow Medicine108218
Pipestone107225
Murray10149
Pope9906
Swift97118
Marshall83717
Stevens79010
Lake77819
Wilkin75412
Clearwater75314
Koochiching74312
Lac qui Parle73022
Big Stone5544
Lincoln5532
Grant5388
Norman5119
Mahnomen4898
Unassigned48578
Kittson44322
Red Lake3796
Traverse3585
Lake of the Woods2932
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 354875

Reported Deaths: 5797
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55489598
Linn20153329
Scott18692234
Black Hawk15460306
Woodbury14773219
Johnson1384380
Dubuque13023202
Dallas1082196
Pottawattamie10612160
Story1024447
Warren548286
Clinton530789
Cerro Gordo518586
Webster506091
Sioux502673
Marshall476274
Muscatine454796
Des Moines439065
Wapello4245120
Buena Vista420940
Jasper406270
Plymouth393779
Lee366655
Marion353975
Jones292055
Henry285337
Bremer278260
Carroll277650
Crawford261539
Boone256131
Benton248955
Washington247849
Dickinson238643
Mahaska223049
Jackson216842
Kossuth211461
Clay208325
Tama206371
Delaware200939
Winneshiek192533
Page189020
Buchanan187331
Cedar182623
Fayette182641
Wright178635
Hardin178542
Hamilton176949
Harrison174673
Clayton165355
Butler161834
Mills157420
Cherokee156438
Floyd154342
Lyon153541
Poweshiek152133
Madison151919
Allamakee149051
Iowa144624
Hancock142634
Winnebago135331
Grundy134832
Cass133954
Calhoun133011
Jefferson130535
Emmet127140
Shelby126537
Louisa126049
Appanoose125847
Sac125819
Mitchell125241
Union123732
Chickasaw122015
Humboldt117926
Guthrie116728
Franklin112321
Palo Alto109622
Howard102622
Unassigned10030
Montgomery99737
Clarke98023
Keokuk94330
Monroe93128
Ida88533
Adair84032
Pocahontas83021
Monona80430
Davis79824
Greene76310
Lucas74822
Osceola73716
Worth6978
Taylor64812
Fremont60410
Decatur5889
Van Buren55318
Ringgold53322
Wayne51823
Audubon4939
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 36°
Mason City
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 34°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 37°
Austin
Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 38°
Charles City
Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 37°
Drier conditions for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events