In Wake Of Verizon Flub, New Law Would Ban Wireless Throttling Of First Responders

from the ill-communication dept

Last summer Verizon got caught in a PR shitstorm after it throttled the wireless data connection of a California fire department — just as they were fighting one of the biggest forest fires in California history. When the firefighters complained to Verizon about the throttling (which occurs on all of Verizon’s “unlimited but not really” data plans), instead of fixing the issue Verizon tried to upsell the department to a more expensive plan. While some responsibility lies with the department for not understanding the data connection they’d bought, Verizon ultimately admitted that throttling any first responders violated the company’s policies and should have never happened.

In the months since, Verizon has been running ads (including one during the Super Bowl) in a bid to burn the PR kerfuffle out of the public consciousness.

But the damage had already been done. The incident has now been a cornerstone of net neutrality activist arguments as to why some basic rules on this front are necessary, and it was brought up repeatedly during the recent opening arguments in the latest net neutrality court battle. And now Texas Representative Bobby Guerra is pushing for new legislation (HB1426) that would prohibit the throttling of first responders in areas deemed a national emergency:

“When the Federal Communications Commission ended net neutrality, it essentially allowed internet providers to throttle, or block access, to certain internet services or websites. HB 1426 joins more than 100 other bills introduced in state legislatures around the country aimed at protecting internet access.

The FCC vote raised broader concerns over who should have control of internet access. But it also came as more and more first responders are using online platforms and apps.”

Granted, laws like this wouldn’t be necessary if the Ajit Pai FCC was interested in actually doing its job. Whether we’re talking about AT&T using usage caps to hinder streaming competitors or CenturyLink blocking internet access until users click on an ad, the FCC has remained largely mute and toothless in the wake of any and all bad ISP behavior, including the firefighter throttling incident. And many still don’t understand that carrier lobbyists didn’t just dismantle net neutrality, they’re gunning to dismantle most if not all meaningful oversight of large ISPs.

As we’ve covered ad nauseum, Verizon and other giant ISPs just got done effectively convincing the Trump FCC to neuter itself at the behest of natural telecom monopolies, leaving oversight in the hands of an FTC ill-equipped to police telecom (the entire plan). At the same time, ISPs like Verizon and Comcast convinced the FCC to declare that states are also prohibited from holding them accountable for false statements or poor service. At the same time, ISP lawyers have been busy leaning on the argument that any attempt to hold them accountable on the state or federal level violates their First Amendment rights.

It’s been a bold lobbying gambit that has seen incredible success in the Trump era, largely while the general public (and even many in the tech press) remain oblivious to the full scope. And it’s a gambit ISPs like Verizon are desperately hoping will be upheld by Brett Kavanaugh should it wind its way to the Supreme Court.

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Comments on “In Wake Of Verizon Flub, New Law Would Ban Wireless Throttling Of First Responders”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Wrong order

It’s been a bold lobbying gambit that has seen incredible success in the Trump era, largely while the general public (and even many in the tech press) remain oblivious to the full scope

I’d put the order the other way around actually. The general public at large remains unaware of the problem because the ‘press’ are for the most part willing to act as nothing more than PR branches for the major ISP’s, merely parroting with no pushback whatever they are told.

When you’ve got the ISP’s pushing dishonest tripe, and the ‘press’ acting as PR stooges for the ISP’s, it’s not surprising that people aren’t aware of just how bad things are unless they spend the time to examine it more extensively, and for many they may not see a reason to dig deeper, as given how abysmal the ISP’s have made their reputations over the years ‘lousy service’ is seen as just how things are.

Anonymous Coward says:

As vitally important as it is to not ban wireless connections, under severe penalty, the baning or restricting of any kind, at any time of, not just 1st responders but all emergency services at any time, surely this law should just have been to make it illegal to throttle any and all wireless connections for anyone, shouldn’t it?

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, there is a legitimate reason to throttle wireless connections. In areas that are facing demand that outstrips network capacity, throttling is a valid network management tool. We can debate who is throttled and on what basis, but when facing congestion it is undeniable throttling is valid and possibly necessary to reduce demand on the network in that local area while providing service to all customers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As opposed to spending money upgrading the infrastructure to support the increased demands they create by refusing to upgrade the wired services that should be getting laid?

This is one of the rare instances when I’ll take the telco’s side. When something like an earthquake happens, everyone wants to get on the phone at the same time, and even landlines could never handle that. Saying telcos should design their systems to provide "normal" (non-degraded) service to everyone during disasters isn’t reasonable; giving priority to emergency calls and first responders can make sense.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am not saying that upgrades aren’t important. However, that doesn’t resolve in the moment congestion. It doesn’t resolve spikes in demand outside common usage in the area, and certainly not in the moment. Because demand for wireless data is highly variable in the moment, even with tower upgrades you can encounter sudden, unexpected spikes in demand that some sort of in the moment network management becomes necessary.

The obvious choice is to throttle connections in some form. Most would likely argue automatic throttling across the board to bring the in-the-moment load in line with capacity is the right way to go. Others might argue that exempting first responder/emergency responder connections from throttling is a good approach, as that kind of demand spike can be generated by emergencies in progress. Other debates might be had that throttling should be proportionate to usage.

In no case is the answer to do nothing about the sudden temporary demand spike, causing significant decline in connection quality and lost and corrupted data, until a team can come out to install a new tower or increase the throughout of the backhaul.

And of course those upgrades might just be unused capacity 90% of the time, and those funds might be better used in areas with chronic issues with capacity.

Upgrades are very necessary. Improving the infrastructure is necessary. But that doesn’t mean there are not times where the network might need to find ways to reduce the localized load on specific towers that aren’t just wait for an upgrade in a few weeks/months.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In no case is the answer to do nothing about the sudden temporary demand spike

Isn’t that exactly the same thing as "automatic throttling across the board"? Extra capacity won’t pop into existence; if there’s not enough, packets will be dropped and thus everyone will be throttled. If every packet has the same probability of being dropped, the impact on any device should be proportional to its packet rate.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

WIreless congestion might result in dropped packets resulting in something that on the surface approaches automatic, across the board throttling. But a managed throttling slows down connections evenly. Because while odds suggest everyone would be effected proportionally, that is not the neccisary result. In fact, one factor of a random event like this is that it becomes likely that the degradation would not be evenly distributed. You are likely to get clusters of packet drops. (its a human failing to assume seemingly random events will necessarily produce an even distribution of results at any given scale below infinite events). You are not evenly serving your customers, even if you are making no choice as to whose connection is harmed more than others. A managed throttling of connection speeds to reduce load, in contrast, makes the outcome of a consistent experience in the moment much more likely, and provides for options such as not impacting potentially critical emergency services on the network. This is without considering concerns of data corruption during the congestion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Police are already included; they’re first responders:

The term first responder is defined in U.S. Homeland Security Presidential Directive, HSPD-8 and reads: The term "first responder" refers to those individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment, including emergency response providers as defined in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. § 101), as well as emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, response, and recovery operations.

6 U.S.C. § 101:

The term “emergency response providers” includes Federal, State, and local governmental and nongovernmental emergency public safety, fire, law enforcement, emergency response, emergency medical (including hospital emergency facilities), and related personnel, agencies, and authorities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now introducing the First Responder Dataplan!

While we apologize that the cost is three times that of the next lower plan, we have designated this as the official Verizon plan to be used by all first responders. Note that while other plans exist, we officially do NOT support them for first responders, as they may be subject to throttling, IP blocks, and other traffic management (the better to serve you).

/ooc you KNOW this is going to be their response to this legislation…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

All them trees, no one can see the forest….

How about a bill to end throttling for everyone?
How about forcing them to be crystal freaking clear about what they actually offer vs the bs pr spin to get you to sign up.

You might get up to 100 MBS… but in truth our network in your area is lucky to hit 1MBS.
We haven’t invested in expanding coverage or availability so the network is ALWAYS congested so everyone gets throttled.

A thing for first responders is a bold PR move to get headlines and soundbites… except we’ve been paying billions of dollars to build out a nationwide network just for them… that isn’t complete, or rolled out based on areas with greater need. Perhaps allowing the telcos access to another piggybank with no oversight or milestones they meet or pay the price for failure wasn’t the best idea.

Terry Unterdrucker-Heimholzernmitshoenenfliegebit says:

"While some responsibility lies with the department"

… YOU have at last admitted the obvious, yet still totally blame Verizon!

Laws "like this" are needed because simply people haven’t thought through all consequences and scenarios.

There’s no particular shame for firefighters but YOU need to stop specially and soling blaming Verizon.

Terry Unterdrucker-Heimholzernmitshoenenfliegebit says:

Re: Re: "While some responsibility lies with the depart

I chuckle when corporations try to convince the general public that they really do have the continuity interests in mind …. lol and then totally ignore any and all issues that affect the community.

Not sure how to take that, but…

I don’t chuckle at it, especially when GOOGLE or FACEBOOK with their expensive spokes-droids and paid-for propaganda shills like Masnick claim have The Public’s interests at the fore.

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