CA Debates Bill to End Data Throttling During Emergencies

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Last summer, Verizon Wireless sparked controversy in the public safety community when the carrier temporarily throttled back internet connectivity for firefighters in Santa Clara, CA — while they were battling the Mendocino Complex fire. Now, state lawmakers are debating a new bill to prevent similar future incidents.

Assembly Bill 1699 would ban mobile internet service providers from throttling service when a “state of emergency” has been declared. 

It forbids companies from degrading services “subject to reasonable network managementin cities and counties when such an event arises.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, of North Bay, sponsored the measure, stating that, “first responders need every tool available…to keep communities safe,” reports Government Technology

During the Mendocino fire, the Santa Clara Fire Department found that a portion its Verizon contract allowed the carrier to slow service after the department had surpassed a certain data threshold, despite the fact that it had purchased a “limitless” data package, Inside Towers reported. At the time, the service was reduced to 1/200th of its previous rate, affecting the fire department’s communications, according to County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden.  The problem was fixed when fire officials agreed to pay for a more expensive package.

Verizon apologized, and called what happened a “mistake.” The company said at the time: “In supporting first responders in the Mendocino fire, we didn’t live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire. For that, we are truly sorry.”

The state Assembly’s Committee on Communications and Conveyance recently held a hearing on the measure. Fire employee advocacy groups support the measure. However, representatives from CTIA argued against passing it, reported Government Technology.

The legislation was subsequently referred to another committee for further review.      

May 2, 2019

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