back to article Fire chief says Verizon throttled department's data in the middle of massive Cali wildfires

Verizon has been accused of throttling the data plan of a California fire department in the midst of the state's worst-ever wildfire. Chief Anthony Bowden of the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District says that [PDF] while his department's Incident Support Unit (OES 5262) was working to coordinate efforts to fight …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All Verizon need now is a fire...

    "I'm sorry we couldn't attend, some greedy bastards cut off our Internet..."

    1. Richocet

      Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

      I was thinking along the same lines:

      When a fire threatens Verizon property, phone them up and negotiate for a better deal on their data plan.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

        Better plan? I keep thinking of the firefighter scene in Gangs of New York... Negotiating how much of the fixtures and fittings they get, if they tackle the fire.

    2. Arctic fox
      Flame

      Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

      What the Fire Dept should do if Verizon's offices in California catch fire is turn up, park the fire tenders in the parking lot and hold a tailgate partly whilst singing "burn baby, burn". Icon? What else in the circumstances?

      1. BillG Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

        "We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer..."

        "... we told them the truth."

    3. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

      In the UK I believe the fire services department can charge for inspection visits if they have concerns (So I am told, however I could be wrong).

      If this is true and they can charge for such services in the US, they should just inspect them whenever they are annoyed and want to annoy someone else.

      1. OurAl

        Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

        UK fire services cannot charge for statutory inspections, or for provide advice on safety matters.

    4. soulrideruk Bronze badge

      Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

      Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle," Verizon's statement reads.

      So speeds are never reduced, because you can't exceed an allotment of unlimited data??

      Internet access, where unlimited means very definitely limited.

      1. BitDr

        Re: All Verizon need now is a fire...

        This is obviously some special definition of "unlimited". Frankly I'd take 10Mb/s down and 5Mb/s up with zero throttling and all the data that a 24/7 download at 10Mb/s can provide. This nonsense of offering restricted unlimited data has got to go the way of the dinosaurs.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone know where they get fire insurance?

    Probably best to warn them to look into private fire brigade services.

  3. kain preacher Silver badge

    Sorry Verzion that you place is on fire but I can't hear you now .

    Verzion refuse to unthrottle them till they paid doubled

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Herby Silver badge

    Verizon: "We Can"

    "Because we're the phone company"

    Said in a nice "Earnestine the operator" voice. (with recognition of Lily Tomlin).

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Verizon: "We Can"

      yeah their public perception profile is probably pretty poor at the moment

      Verizon blew a great P.R. opportunity. "temporary upgrade" to help in an emergency.

      And the fire department should've gotten an UNLIMITED plan for the firefighters. Then the problem would NOT have been 'a problem'.

      Don't blame net neutrality for this. Even with Obaka's stupid FCC regs in place, Verizon could STILL throttle bandwidth if you went over your plan's data cap. This policy has not been affected at ALL.

      [something that might make sense is a regulation that requires EMERGENCY SERVICES to NOT use any plan with a data cap, thus forcing phone companies to ONLY offer 'unlimited' plans]

      1. F3ar13ss

        Re: Verizon: "We Can"

        Um. You didn't read the Verizon representative's remarks. The fire department DID subscribe to an unlimited plan. Their plan has a data cap for high usage users, and/or high usage months from their unlimited users. This type of plan would be illegal under the previous net neutrality regulations. Or, at least, Verizon couldn't deceptively call it "unlimited." They would have to give it another name more reflective of what it offers.

        Verizon's "other" UNLIMITED plan is one with no throttling. It costs 2.5 times their normal unlimited plan.

      2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Verizon: "We Can"

        "Don't blame net neutrality for this. Even with Obaka's stupid FCC regs in place, Verizon could STILL throttle bandwidth if you went over your plan's data cap.

        Stop it Bob. You're better than that.

        Yes, nothing to do with net neutrality, and yes, the same thing could have occured under net neutrality.

        Why couldn't you have just said that instead of getting all partisan?

        But as you raise the issue, the mind still boggles to how republicans can equate rules that say "ISPs cannot arse around with your internet traffic" with "government controlling our internet" - I suppose its' bloody commies... Oh no, you're best buds with them now... Errm. bloody Muslims.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Verizon: "We Can"

        @bob.

        Sorry for ll the sheep downvoting you regarding this. I just with they had RTFA.

        It is quite clearly stated in the article that they had unlimited data that would be throttled if they went over X amount. This is not Verizon's fault, This is fully the fault of the person who purchased the contract.

  6. jake Silver badge

    What do you expect?

    If you pay for a certain plan, that's the plan you get. When you exceed it, your use is restricted. That's the way it works. It's called a "contract", you may have heard of them.

    This is purely the fault of whoever is in charge of selecting the service plan, not Verizon ... with the caveat that yes, their customer service department could/should have made an immediate exception due to the emergency.

    Note: I'm no fan of Verizon or any other telco ... and I have the utmost respect tor all the responders working the lines in California's fires (I live in Sonoma). But pu-lease, don't pass the buck, Bowden. Suck it up and admit you made an error in judgement over your department's data needs. Being a firefighter is not a get out of jail free card. What's next? Pay for 1,000 feet of hose and expect to receive 2,000 feet?

    1. Shane Lusby

      Re: What do you expect?

      The problem you are making in judegement here is I am certain the plan they need on a random month is FAR less than what is needed during raging giant wildfires. So are you saying they should over buy in a long term contract that exceeds their needs most of the time?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: What do you expect?

        "So are you saying they should over buy in a long term contract that exceeds their needs most of the time?"

        Hell no! What they should have done is call the vendor and say "we're going into harm's way for a bit, please give us an extension on the bandwidth allotment for the duration. We'll happily pay for it, as it's not in our contract". I'm absolutely certain that Verizon would have been happy to do so ... and PROBABLY would have waived the added fee(s) (think of the advertising!).

        As it is, the computer noted the account was over limit, and set the agreed upon restrictions. No human even entered into the scenario, until the Chief bitched about it. If he had been a little more proactive, he wouldn't have risked his firefighters becoming incommunicado. The dude is placing blame on Verizon to cover his own lack of planning.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          'firefighters are dealing with this type of corp'

          Verizon Execs:

          Indycar sponership costs are a bitch, quick burn the Firemen!

        2. overunder

          Re: What do you expect?

          @jake: I like how you state RTFA and you don't even RTFA. Read paragraph 5.

          @jake: are you human or a script servicing or Verizon; are you Unlimited?

          @jake: what is the meaning of life; what is the meaning of you?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: What do you expect?

            I read para 5. Did you read how they attempted to converse with Verizon? It's in the PDF. The idiots were talking to an email bot. Most people with clues would have called the 24/7 tech support hotline that is thoughtfully provided with all emergency services accounts.

            I wouldn't work for any telco. Almost as bad as working for a government.

        3. mstreet

          Re: What do you expect?

          You actually believe that in an emergency situation like this, when they are trying to organize massive amounts of man-power and information, and set up for emergency evacuations, that whoever is in charge is going to have time to worry if they're exceeding their data?

          They are an integral emergency service, not some teenager streaming crap on his phone.

          This is why hard core capitalism just flat out doesn't work in a properly civilized state.

          Perspective and common sense really are disappearing fast.

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: What do you expect?

        So are you saying they should over buy in a long term contract that exceeds their needs most of the time?

        They should have negotiated a contract which would meet their needs. In this case, one that allows for steady low background levels with occasional big peaks for emergencies, which is a pretty standard telecoms pattern. My guess is that no-one thought to put it out to tender with a proper RFP process, they just signed up for some off-the-shelf contract that looked OK. It wasn't.

    2. Nick Stallman

      Re: What do you expect?

      To be fair, they did get an unlimited plan.

      Kinda says in the name of the plan what the data limit should be. Unlimited.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: What do you expect?

        RTFA. "This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle" They received exactly what they paid for. How can you possibly fault the vendor for delivering on the contract?

        1. Marshalltown

          Re: What do you expect?

          "How can you possibly fault the vendor for delivering on the contract?"

          Easy. Their "plan" resulted in millions of dollars in damge that otherwise would not have been taken. The "unlimited data but slower speed" is outright fraud since you can only have one or the other. The unlimited data "service" conflicts with the extreme reduction in bandwidth that produces a very definite reduction in available data. I can imagine that with this news about 10,000 lawyers are geering up for class action suits. And Verizon will be required to explain in court how the data transmission can be both unlimited and limited. Their defense can only be 'caveat emptor', "the customer should have considered the implications of the fine print more closely. No one could possibly take the work 'unlimited' seriously."

        2. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: What do you expect?

          "RTFA. "This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle" They received exactly what they paid for. How can you possibly fault the vendor for delivering on the contract?"

          OK. Fire service's response is now: "This is a state emergency. We are now comandeering your premises for the duration of the emergency. We will return it to you when the emergency is over."

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: What do you expect?

            So presumably the next time some PHB provisions a line incorrectly, you lot are going to side with the PHB and claim it was all the line provider's fault? Fascinating.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: What do you expect?

            "This is a state emergency. We are now comandeering your premises for the duration of the emergency. We will return it to you when the emergency is over."

            In the interim we will be conducting firefighter training exercises in it.

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: What do you expect?

          "users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment "

          What sort of contorted language can equate having an allotment of data with "unlimited". Apart from anything else, depending on the speed with which the allotment was exceeded the total amount of data that could be transmitted would approach a limit, that of the amount transmittable at the throttled rate over the period of a billing cycle.

          We hear endless complaints about "up to" data rates; limited "unlimited" deals are far more reprehensibly misleading - the first involves the laws of physics, the second a deliberate action by the vendor.

        4. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: What do you expect?

          "How can you possibly fault the vendor for delivering on the contract?"

          From the article (you know, the one you suggest everyone else needs to read):

          "Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations... In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake."

          It's quite easy to fault the vendor when they freely admit they were, in fact, at fault.

        5. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: What do you expect?

          "They received exactly what they paid for."

          Which part? "users get an unlimited amount of data" or "speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment"? They both can't be true at the same time.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What do you expect?

            "users get an unlimited amount of data" or "speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment"? They both can't be true at the same time.

            WTF? Of course they can. "unlimited data" means exactly that: you can keep on downloading until the cows come home and no-one will ever cut you off. It's completely independent of the speed you download that data at.

            Of course, moving data has a small but finite cost per item, so if you truly expect both quantity and speed to be "unlimited" (within the obvious bounds of the speed of light, so speed can't really ever be "unlimited") then the cost would also have to be unlimited. Would you be OK with that as a condition of your package? I doubt it.

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: What do you expect?

              ""unlimited data" means exactly that: you can keep on downloading until the cows come home and no-one will ever cut you off. It's completely independent of the speed you download that data at."

              I disagree entirely.

              What you're talking about is "unlimited service" as in the service won't just be shut off. That's very different than "unlimited data". If the data was truly unlimited, there would be no data cap -- but there is, so it's not unlimited.

              "if you truly expect both quantity and speed to be "unlimited""

              But, of course, I don't -- and neither does anyone else, as near as I can tell. I'm just saying that using the term "unlimited data" is a lie when there is, in fact, a data cap, and ISPs should stop using the term when it isn't true.

              By the way, it is possible to get actual "unlimited data" plans -- as in, you can use the entire allotted bandwidth 24/7. Not from the major consumer ISPs, of course, but such plans exist. They aren't cheap, but they also don't cost an infinite amount of money -- and, per-MB, they are much less expensive than the fake "unlimited data" plans like what Verizon is talking about.

      2. AZump

        Re: What do you expect?

        Data IS unlimited. SPEED is not. Look at every unlimited contract. "Unlimited data at UP TO xG speeds". Just because they throttle you from 100Mb to 10Kb doesnt mean you have to stop using data.

        ...you're more than welcome to download that bluray rip at 9Kbps. No one is stopping you, after all, data is not capped.

        How can folks fail to grasp this concept?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          'How can folks fail to grasp this concept?'

          Going back to the case: It was high-pressure sales tactics that backfired. This BBC report is incredibly damaging to Verizon:

          ~~~~~

          "At the time, news reports were warning that 4,500 buildings were at risk from the Northern California wildfire and that seven firefighters had been injured trying to subdue it.

          "Remove any data throttling... effective immediately," added the department's IT officer in a follow-up message.

          However, rather than doing so, Verizon continued to negotiate a switch to a more expensive contract.

          "Rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan," said Mr Bowden."

          ~~~~~

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-45270854

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: 'How can folks fail to grasp this concept?'

            The BBC is pretty clueless.

            Verizon's PR people kinda put a better spin on it, ie the problem occured because SCCFD didn't read the small print, and spoke to the wrong person. So if the account was flagged as ordinary, the call would get routed to a telesales person who'd have limited options on their screen. So their fix was to regrade the service to a different tariff that didn't have the cap.

            In a perfect world, the AM would have recognised the call was a bit special and escalated it.. Which can be a systems issue, ie it'd need to be escalated promptly to someone who could make the change NOW, rather than follow the normal order flow of issue a new contract, wait for PO, and the order to flow through provisioning and the billing system updated. That's sometimes easier said than done depending on how the order automation is set up and if it's got an option for immediate. Especially when the automation's set up to handle large volumes of simple contracts, not 'specials'.

            (It's also where there can be fun with the Euro system of notifying customers if they're approaching their cap. So that's often an SMS to the subscriber. Which won't help in this case where it's a data SIM stuck in a router at the bottom of the mobile command centre rack. But this customer has/had a fundamentally unreliable solution for a safety-of-life application, and I suspect there's some CYA going on.)

            There were also challenges at the customer end, eg the mail trail trying to get authorisation for a $2/month bill increase. Again in a perfect world, the person talking to Verizon would have the authority to approve that.. And in major incidents, ie when it's a Federal emergency, part of that process is keeping track of costs and invoicing once the dust's settled. And I know Verizon's used to dealing with this kind of incident. I remember when NY flooded watching status updates from Verizon divers doing underwater splices and rigging bypass cables!

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: What do you expect?

          "How can folks fail to grasp this concept?"

          Just because people disagree does NOT mean they do not 'understand'. Agreement is not the same thing as understanding. But you hear that kind of arguing, a form of 'ad hominem' attack on the intelligence of the person who disagrees, in desperation, from those who can't stand that others actually DISAGREE with their superior wisdom. Or whatever. [it reflects a bit of arrogance, I say]

          Maybe that was in the contract, sure, but Verizon would've helped their own corporate image by UNCAPPING the data rate on a temporary basis during the emergency. Maybe THIS has to be part of every government cellular phone contract from now on?

          So regardless of 'grasping the concept', Verizon blew a perfect opportunity to make their company look good, by greedily grubbing for pennies at the expense of missing the 'gold'.

          That being said, the fire department ALSO blew it with their chosen data plan.

          Plenty of 'fault' to go around.

        3. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: What do you expect?

          "How can folks fail to grasp this concept?"

          Oh, I think we're grasping it just fine. We're just acknowledging that the speed affects the amount of data you can use. Telecoms are intentionally deceptive when they say "unlimited data", because they don't offer any such thing. Even if they said the more technically coherent "unlimited data at X speed", they'd be lying if they reduce the speed when you use more than a given amount of data -- doing that is imposing a limit on the amount of data you can use.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What do you expect?

        NS offered, "To be fair, they did get an unlimited plan. Kinda says in the name of the plan what the data limit should be. Unlimited."

        Once upon a time: "Unlimited" = 5 GB per month. After that, they phone you up to cancel your contract entirely. Seriously; not joking. It was about a decade ago, at the colder end of North America. After some legal proceedings, an unexpectedly generous offer of compensation was eventually made and accepted. And now we have some land on a lovely tropical island.

        We call the property, "The Settlement".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'They received exactly what they paid for'

      Wrong! if Verizon had honored this, then the Firefighters would have received this: "'We have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations'."

      This is either policy or not. Plus, from the article side-link, the firefighters are dealing with this type of corp "Verizon was simply selling the data, failing to properly audit its use, and companies have been freely trading in user location data as a result.".

      What's the odds the Firefighters were sold a plan by a high-pressure Verizon salesman that assured them the policy above would be honored: 'Oh, we'd never cross the Fire Dept. You're an emergency service and we serve the community too'!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: 'They received exactly what they paid for'

        If the fire dept. had used the provided support telephone number instead of trying to converse with an email bot, I might agree with you.

      2. ShadowDragon8685

        Re: 'They received exactly what they paid for'

        "Wrong! if Verizon had honored this, then the Firefighters would have received this: "'We have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations'."

        This is either policy or not."

        I expect that that policy didn't exist until suddenly a fire chief is writing to the press complaining that Verizon held them over the (pun intended) coals and forced them to pony up, citing Net Neutrality, and is now risking (nearly) literally everyone in America queueing up to saw their bollocks off.

        Because frankly, well... No matter what anyone thinks of the cops, or the post office, or even EMTs; nobody wants to have firefighters badmouthing them, because EVERYBODY wants the fire brigade to show up when there's, you know, a fire on.

    4. Flywheel Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: What do you expect?

      They paid for unlimited data. In 99% of places this means "without limits". You and Verizon are obviously part of the 1% that don't understand that!

      1. SolidSquid

        Re: What do you expect?

        I agree it's pretty bullshit, but it sounds like they agreed to unlimited data but limited speeds, including throttling when it went over a certain limit. Why the hell Verizon didn't have something in place to flag up this kind of thing when it's an emergency service (since they're probably a bit preoccupied with the whole massive wildfire thing to think about data throttling) I have no idea though

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What do you expect?

        They paid for unlimited data. In 99% of places this means "without limits". You and Verizon are obviously part of the 1% that don't understand that!

        "Unlimited data" doesn't mean "Unlimited speeds". Every data contract that I have seen includes a "fair use" clause which says that they will continue to provide unlimited access, but beyond a certain cap they will slow down the data rate. My mobile phone plan gives me 100GB/month at 4G speeds, and if I exceed that I go to the back of the queue for priority. I can still download data, though.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What do you expect?

          ""Unlimited data" doesn't mean "Unlimited speeds""

          If you throttle someone after xGB of data, basic maths says you are by definition reducing the amount of data they can consume, and it ceases to be "unlimited data" in any meaningful meaning of the phrase.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What do you expect?

            If you throttle someone after xGB of data, basic maths says you are by definition reducing the amount of data they can consume, and it ceases to be "unlimited data" in any meaningful meaning of the phrase.

            You appear to be redefining "unlimited data" as "unlimited bandwith", they are not the same. Throttling someone doesn't limit the amount of data they can consume in total, merely the amount they can consume in a given time period and there is always going to be a limit on the amount of data you can obtain in any given time from basic physics. You're never going to get 10GB/s through a 100Mbit/s pipe. An unlimited plan may be expected to give you access to all the data you can consume (i.e. no cap after "x" TB) but it cannot possibly claim to be unlimited in the rate at which you consume that data, and I've never seen one that is.

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