Nation & World

Hurricane Lane: Verizon to lift data restrictions on Hawaii first-responders

California firefighters complained of throttled speeds

Reuters

A chicken hops through floodwaters in Hilo, Hawaii, on Thursday, in this still image from video obtained from social media.
Reuters A chicken hops through floodwaters in Hilo, Hawaii, on Thursday, in this still image from video obtained from social media.

In the wake of a customer-service backlash involving California firefighters, Verizon is apologizing for slowing down the data speeds of first-responders — and says it will begin offering emergency workers an unlimited data plan to avoid future mishaps.

The telecom giant also said Friday it will refrain from imposing mobile data speed restrictions on first-responders on the entire West Coast for now as people there continue to battle some of the worst wildfires in the region’s history.

The company extended the same measure to emergency workers in Hawaii on Friday, as Hurricane Lane dumped 31 inches of rainfall on parts of the state.

Verizon’s moves are aimed at soothing mounting outrage sparked by the Santa Clara County Fire Department this week, which said that Verizon had throttled the speeds of firefighters struggling to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire — what has become the largest wildfire California has ever seen.

“Our process failed some first responders on the line,” Verizon said in a statement Friday. “For that, we are truly sorry. And we’re making every effort to ensure that it never happens again.”

Verizon said it often eases its policies in emergency situations.

But in this case, the firefighters were told they needed to switch to a plan that cost more than double what they were currently paying before normal data service would be restored, according to court documents filed Tuesday in an ongoing legal battle over net neutrality.

The allegations quickly ballooned into a backlash.

Verizon acknowledged it had “made a mistake” and explained that the slowdowns occurred because the fire department had used up too much data, despite being subscribed to an unlimited data plan.

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Unlike that plan, the new unlimited plan being developed by Verizon for first-responders will not restrict speeds “on mobile solutions” no matter how much data is used and “automatically includes priority access.”

It is unclear what “priority access” means and how much the new plan could cost.

Company executives did not immediately respond to questions about the forthcoming plan. Verizon said it will reveal more in an announcement next week.

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