California firefighters: Ending net neutrality put lives at risk


The firefighters fighting the massive California wildfires say the Trump FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality allowed Verizon to throttle their internet speeds right as they were coordinating a response to the 400,000 acre blaze.

California firefighters say the Trump administration's decision to rescind net neutrality rules put in place by President Barack Obama endangered lives during recent wildfires.

As firefighters began to battle the Mendocino Complex Fire in northern California (now 400,000 acres large), Verizon began to slow down the internet access on the vehicle being used to coordinate the disaster response.

In an email from the Santa Clarita Fire Department's systems analyst to Verizon, he wrote pleading for the caps to be removed: "Please work with us. All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind."


In response, Verizon's representative told the fire department they had to upgrade their account.

The department has now squarely placed the blame for this failure and the resulting danger to public safety on the Trump administration's shoulders.

Despite widespread public opposition, Trump's hand-picked FCC chairman Ajit Pai went ahead with scrapping net neutrality rules.

The rules, put in place by the Obama administration, were implemented to ensure that companies that provide internet access cannot discriminate in how they deliver the internet to subscribers. For example, companies would not be able to prioritize their own services, or services from their partners, over competitors.

Without net neutrality in place, Verizon was able to throttle its services, even to firefighters who were in the process of fighting the largest wildfire in California history.

Santa Clara Fire Chief Anthony Bowden has filed a declaration supporting a petition that is challenging the FCC on net neutrality.

Bowden notes, "The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires."

"County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon. 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."

After noting that Verizon eventually lifted their throttling after the fire department upgraded to a "new, more expensive plan," Bowden concludes, "County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher cost plans ultimately paying significantly more for mission critical service — even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations."

NPR reports that in addition to Bowden, two dozen states and local government entities are part of the appeal to the FCC complaining that net neutrality repeal is "a threat to public safety."

By contrast, Pai attacked the rules as "heavy-handed."

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams made a direct connection between Pai's mandate and what Verizon did to the firefighters: "Verizon's throttling has everything to do with net neutrality — it shows that the ISPs will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety."

He added, "That is exactly what the Trump Administration's repeal of net neutrality allows and encourages."

Rescinding net neutrality rewarded big companies and tilted the playing field against innovators, which has been the Trump administration's outlook from the beginning.

But now with Verizon's actions during a deadly mega-fire, firefighters — who are frontline first responders — are showing that the wrongheaded decision is hurting public safety, and impeded the response to a major natural disaster.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.