Verizon Wireless today said it has temporarily stopped throttling the data of firefighters and other first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii and will soon introduce a new unlimited plan "with no caps" and with priority access for first responders.
"As of yesterday, we removed all speed cap restrictions for first responders on the West Coast and in Hawaii to support current firefighting and Hurricane Lane efforts," Verizon's announcement today said. "Further, in the event of another disaster, Verizon will lift restrictions on public safety customers, providing full network access."
Next week, Verizon said it will provide full details on "a new plan that will feature unlimited data, with no caps on mobile solutions and automatically includes priority access."
"We will make it easy to upgrade service at no additional cost," Verizon said.
Verizon's changes come after the Santa Clara County Fire Department said its unlimited data plan was throttled while fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire, which is still ongoing and is the largest wildfire in California's history. Verizon only disabled the throttling after the department subscribed to a new, pricier plan.
Verizon failed to follow policy
Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden described the throttling in court documents filed as part of an appeal seeking to reinstate the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules.
Verizon has denied that its throttling has anything to do with net neutrality but admitted that it failed to follow its own policy of "remov[ing] data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations."
Verizon called the error a "customer support mistake," but Santa Clara County officials rejected that excuse.
Verizon also said it "made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan." The fire department was using an "unlimited" plan that got throttled after 25GB of usage each month.
But the throttling during the current wildfire response caught firefighters by surprise. Emails submitted in court show that fire department officials thought they had worked out a solution with Verizon to remove throttling after similar incidents in December and June.
Today, Verizon said:
In supporting first responders in the Mendocino fire, we didnt 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. And were making every effort to ensure that it never happens again.
"Weve been working closely with mission-critical first responders to refine our service plan to better meet their unique needs," Verizon also said. The result of that effort is the new unlimited plan.
State lawmakers hold hearing today
Verizon may be worried about losing customers to AT&T, which is operating the government-subsidized FirstNet network for public safety agencies. The Santa Clara department has begun using FirstNet "as a supplement to Verizon to avoid future issues," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Verizon today said it should still be a top choice for public safety departments:
Verizon has long been known as the trusted provider of choice for public safety because of our superior network reliability and our partnership with local first responders in times of crisis. Verizon customers have access to our more than 450,000-square mile 4G LTE coverage advantage over competitors. In addition, we consistently show up in times of disaster to extend our network capabilities, provide our customers with loaner devices, and provide customers of any provider with access to free charging stations.
Verizon is facing heat from state lawmakers. Today, the California State Assembly's Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding will hold a hearing on Verizon's throttling.
An announcement of the hearing said that it will include Bowden and "representatives from the telecommunications industry."