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INTERNET provider Verizon has been accused of putting lives at risk by “throttling” a California fire department’s service as it fought deadly wildfires earlier this month.
Despite being advised of the impact of interfering with emergency communications in the midst of a crisis, the company demanded that the fire department upgrade its service package before it would restore capacity.
Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden warned the throttling “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services” as firefighters tried to deal with wildfires that had spread across one million acres of land.
This includes the Mendocino Complex Fire — the largest single blaze in state history, which started on July 27 and is still yet to be fully contained.
As firefighters battled the blazes, Verizon allegedly confirmed it had limited the fire department’s internet service, telling County Fire it would only be restored if it switched to a more expensive plan and contacted the billing department.
Fire personnel were forced to use other departments’ services and their own personal devices until the additional charges were paid.
Mr Bowden’s statement is being used as evidence in a lawsuit filed by a number of government agencies in a bid to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality legislation which gives internet providers the power “to block websites, throttle services and censor online content.”
He explained the fire department is on an “unlimited” data package and uses the service as a command and control resource, tracking and deploying fire engines to areas of high priority.
Mr Bowden accused Verizon of taking advantage of the situation to force the fire service to move onto a new, more expensive plan.
A Verizon spokesman said it had an agreement regarding emergency services and claimed it was a “customer support mistake.”
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