The Mendocino Complex Fire (Cal Fire photo/Twitter)

Lawmakers Demand FTC Investigation into Throttling of Fire Department’s Data During Massive Blaze

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter with 11 Northern California members to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Friday demanding an investigation into whether Verizon’s throttling of the “unlimited” data plan of the Santa Clara County Fire Department was “unfair or deceptive,” pursuant to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

According to a declaration to the D.C. Circuit, the fire department contracted with Verizon for an “unlimited” data plan but experienced heavy throttling when they had reached their “cap.” These reduced speeds severely undermined department personnel’s ability to respond to the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in the history of California. When the county department contacted Verizon directly about the reduced speeds and asked them to restore speeds to essential transfer speed, they were allegedly told that the fire department would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost.

“It is unacceptable for communications providers to deceive their customers, but when the consumer in question is a government entity tasked with fire and emergency services, we can’t afford to wait a moment longer,” the lawmakers wrote. “The FTC must investigate whether Verizon and other communications companies are being unfair or deceptive in the services they’re offering to public safety entities, and if so, to determine what remedies are appropriate to ensure our first responders have adequate service when lives are on the line.”

“Unfortunately, with its repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC has abdicated its jurisdiction over broadband communications and walked away from protecting consumers, including public safety agencies,” the letter added. “We, therefore, call on the FTC to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices stemming from this incident.”

The letter was also signed by California Democratic Reps. Mark DeSaulnier, John Garamendi, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Doris Matsui, Jerry McNerney, Jimmy Panetta, Jackie Speier, and Mike Thompson.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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