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After Verizon slowed down the speed of their wireless data last month, firefighters in Northern California struggled to communicate as they battled the Mendocino Complex fire, the largest blaze in modern state history, Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a federal court filing earlier this week.
"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services," Bowden said. "Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding county fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."
On Monday, California, along with 20 other states and the District of Columbia, filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules. Throttling — when the data connection is dropped to 1/200 or less of previous speeds — hinders first responders and could interfere with the public learning vital safety information, Bowden said. "Even small delays in response translate into devastating effects, including loss of property, and in some cases, loss of life."
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The fire department believed they had an unlimited data plan, but Verizon Wireless told them they went over their monthly limit and could buy a more expensive plan with more data. Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato told the Los Angeles Times that this was a "customer support mistake" and has nothing to do with net neutrality. She also said during emergencies, speeds are not supposed to be reduced, even when a customer uses all of their allotted data.
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