Wireless Carriers Fight Rules Preventing Them From Screwing Firefighters During Emergencies

from the ill-communication dept

You might recall that Verizon found itself under fire last summer after it throttled the data connection of California firefighters as they were busy battling the Mendocino Complex Fire. When the firefighters complained to Verizon, the company didn’t immediately put the restrictions on hold; instead they attempted to upsell the providers to a faster plan. While not technically a net neutrality violation, the repeal of the net neutrality rules (and FCC authority over ISPs) did impede the first responders’ ability to effectively contest the restrictions. Verizon also ultimately admitted that the move was in direct violation of the company’s own rules.

Last week, California took the first steps toward passing a law that would prevent wireless carriers from imposing such restrictions on first responders during an emergency. Not too surprisingly, wireless carriers (who’ve effectively been dictating all federal telecom policy the last few years) weren’t too keen on that idea:

“A letter sent to the California Assembly?s Communications and Conveyance Committee last week by CTIA, which represents the wireless industry, argues that language in the bill ? which states that providers may not ?impair or degrade? internet traffic ? is ambiguous. CTIA also cited concern with the amount of people who could declare a state of emergency, and wrote that providers should be notified of an emergency if they?re expected to adjust service.”

Consumer groups, as you might expect, suggested that wireless carriers were being a touch melodramatic:

“It?s basically bogus,? Falcon said. ?The legislation is straightforward in that they just can?t throttle public safety like they did in Santa Clara where they took their 50 Mbps down/10 Mbps up connection and brought it down to kilobits speed where it was useless to them.”

Granted, much like state privacy and net neutrality laws, it’s another instance of how you wouldn’t need these additional restrictions if wireless carriers hadn’t neutered modest and popular federal guidelines. Of course in this instance, while the throttling of firefighters didn’t run directly afoul of the FCC’s since-discarded 2015 net neutrality rules (Verizon at least disclosed the restrictions in its fine print, and didn’t discriminate against specific types of traffic) it did once again highlight how wireless carriers are routinely misleading and utterly terrible when it comes to customer service.

Much of the problem stems from companies like Verizon selling an “unlimited” product — then imposing all manner of confusing limits, something they’ve been getting fined and criticized for the better part of the last fifteen years. Such restrictions don’t just confuse customers, they create bold new headaches where companies impose arbitrary restrictions, then charge consumers more money to tap dance around them (HD streaming on Verizon unlimited plans, for example, is now a pricey luxury option).

And while the net neutrality rules themselves may not have prevented Verizon from doing this, the repeal of those rules didn’t just kill net neutrality. It effectively neutered the FCC’s authority (at direct ISP lobby request), then shoveled most remaining authority to an FTC critics have long stated lacks the authority to adequately police telecom (the whole reason the ISP lobby wanted it). That means far less recourse for consumers and competitors getting caught up in wireless carriers’ never-ending quest to nickel-and-dime them, using a rotating crop of increasingly annoying, confusing, and often unnecessary network restrictions.

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Companies: verizon

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Comments on “Wireless Carriers Fight Rules Preventing Them From Screwing Firefighters During Emergencies”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is why some agencies need a closed communications system dedicated to a purpose, these things usually have spectrum allocated. This costs over and above what could be provided by the local public communications services and I’m sure that some out there champion such efficiencies but, things do not always works out as planned. Perhaps Verizon would have felt differently had it been their assets in peril.

Anonymous Coward says:

Devil's Advocate

Yes, Verizon did a big wrong here. However, Verizon had help from the State of California and Californians themselves.

The CA state government chose to spend money on those business/constituent entities who kept the current politicians in office or got those who promised the moon into office. The CA state govt could have spent money on an isolated communications infrastructure, which they controlled. Yes, this would have been expensive, if they had done so then the Verizon blackmail wouldn’t have happened.

Please remember also, that the CA voters accepted the Verizon dependency by their election choices. It is nearly certain that some despicable govt bureaucrat got an "Attaboy" for setting up this deal with Verizon. Further, at some level, the people who lost their homes chose to accept the risk of the loss rather than insist that state government properly prepare (and pay the taxes therefor). Further, the parasitic corporate/personal types chose to help the destruction of those around them by also voting for their own personal best interest. Virtually no one in CA accepted that there needs to be a balance between personal best interest, in the short term, and the long term, and the group.

The good of the many DOES NOT out-weigh the good of the few. Nor does the good (and rights) of the few out-weigh the good of the many. There must be an intelligent, rational balance. Risk is a part of life and NO ONE has a right to safety.

There is plenty of blame for all. Verizon definitely needs to be condemned and punished. Also, the CA politicians need to be also chastised. Further, the parasitic CA corporations and individuals need to be dealt with, somehow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Devil's Advocate

"Please remember also, that the CA voters accepted the Verizon dependency by their election choices."

Weak Sauce. Politicians lie, this is a well established fact and yet you want to place the blame at the feet of the voters for things that a politician does once in office … things they may have never publicly discussed – but you voted for them so its your fault.

Sounds like authoritarian bullshit to me.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "The government they deserve"

So then serfs get the government they deserve? The US democracy was hacked by big money long before my generation, or my grandfather’s. Robber barons never lost power.

Also as old as everyone alive today: countless ways to make US democracy more democratic. Our reforms trickle in like papal concessions to science.

Feel free to offer actual solutions to oppression.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Devil's Advocate

"There must be an intelligent, rational balance. Risk is a part of life and NO ONE has a right to safety."

We pay people to help safeguard our well-being. They should receive all the help necessary to do their jobs. Whatever this "balance" is, it should lean more in favor of firefighters who’re trying to save lives rather than the CEOs who’re trying to gouge every last cent out of the general populace even as their houses and lives burn.

rangda (profile) says:

Re: Devil's Advocate

"Please remember also, that the CA voters accepted the Verizon dependency by their election choices."

This is most likely untrue. It depends on several assumptions that aren’t necessarily accurate:

  1. That the decision was made or overseen by an elected official rather than an unelected government employee.
  2. That any public official would campaign on this particular topic and then actually follow through with whatever they said when in office. (The system is setup with incentives for this desired result to not happen.)
  3. That in the absence of #2 there would be a viable way for voters to elect someone who would tackle this issue in the desired way. I have no idea if CA state law allows write-ins for elections but even if it does, everyone would have to get together and agree to pick the same someone to write-in. And that someone would then have to have sufficient moral fiber to not cave in to the inevitable pressures and temptations. That sounds an awful lot like a political party and we have evidence of how well such a process is likely to turn out.

The reality is that we have setup a system where getting elected requires giant bags of money. Since it’s always better to spend someone else’s giant bags of money than your own (assuming you have said giant bags at all) it pretty much means candidates are required to accept bribes (err, campaign contributions) to get elected. This naturally incentives the morally bankrupt to run for office and discourages the morally strong from doing so. Even if the odd morally strong person does get elected, it all but ensures that the level of corruption is high in aggregate and is "just the way things get done". Until this reality changes then the kind of government we see now is unlikely to change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Throttling (outside of QoS) and overage fees should be made illegal at this point. There’s no point to it other than tricking customers into paying more than they should. Most people don’t give a shit about how much bandwidth they’re using, they just want their streaming video to not buffer all the time and their games not to lag. But essentially the telecom/cable companies are telling their customers "Don’t use this service we’re selling you too much or we’ll either make it either unusable or we’ll charge you huge overage fees."

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Let me cut through that river of bull####

1:Back before you came up with that “priority” crap there was none. That’s You people and you know who I’m talking about when I say you. I got internet. I had internet.

2: if one firefighter dies amd they find out it’s Because of that shit “priority” privilege stuff? Have a good lawyer. That’s all

Anonymous Coward says:

The telcos did nothing wrong .
Look in the mirror , YOU caused this
by electing ignorant morons over and over again
thinking they are there for your benefit .
Oh and this only applies to those who actually vote .
Those who don’t ……well just be happy of the shit they throw down
for to you to wallow in .

known coward says:

As much as i hate Verizon, this isnt all on them.

Why is public safety on a private network in the first place? Secondly the fire dept cheaped out when purchasing the service. The folks placing these contracts are suppose to be experts and know how to read a contract, the fire dept is not a typical user. Your public safety was a second priority to them.


…Verizon also noted that the fire department purchased a data service plan that is slowed down after a data usage threshold is reached. But Verizon said it "made a mistake" in communicating with the department about the terms of the plan…

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