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.