MENDOCINO Co., 8/27/18 -- Congressman Jared Huffman has joined several other Northern California representatives in asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for an investigation into the actions taken by Verizon Communications Inc. during the Mendocino Complex Fires. During the height of the fire the Santa Clara County Fire Department, which was battling the blaze, had its cellphone data plan throttled by Verizon, making it difficult for them to communicate the the midst of fighting the fire.
The group of Democratic lawmakers, representing a large part of Northern California, have drafted a letter to the FTC asking that the commission investigate whether the throttling of a data plan, which was labeled as "unlimited," constitutes "unfair or deceptive" behavior "pursuant to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act." This action is a notable development in the continuing fight over net-neutrality. Given the recent repeal of net-neutrality provision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an appeal to the FCC is no longer viable. It would seem that this group of representatives see the FTC as another avenue to continue this fight.
Verizon's throttling of firefighters cellphone service has sparked a series of governmental and legal actions, with Santa Clara County filing a legal action, and Verizon officials appearing before the California Assembly last week to discuss the issue, where they denied that the throttling had anything to do with net-neutrality.
We will continue to cover this issue and update as more developments occur.
Here is the the full statement from Huffman's office:
Rep. Huffman Demands Investigation into Fire Department Data Throttling During Mendocino Complex Fire
WASHINGTON, D.C. —Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02) has joined with Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) to send a letter with 11 Northern California Members of Congress to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demanding an investigation into whether Verizon’s throttling of the “unlimited” data plan of the Santa Clara County fire department during the Mendocino Complex Fire was “unfair or deceptive,” pursuant to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
According to a court declaration filed by Santa Clara County, the fire department contracted with Verizon for an “unlimited” data plan but experienced heavy throttling when they had reached their “cap.” These reduced speeds severely undermined department personnel’s ability to respond to the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in the history of California. When the fire department contacted Verizon directly about the reduced speeds and asked them to restore speeds to essential transfer speed, they were told that they would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost.
“It is unacceptable for communications providers to deceive their customers, but when the consumer in question is a government entity tasked with fire and emergency services, we can’t afford to wait a moment longer,” the Members wrote. “The FTC must investigate whether Verizon and other communications companies are being unfair or deceptive in the services they’re offering to public safety entities, and if so, to determine what remedies are appropriate to ensure our first responders have adequate service when lives are on the line.”
“Unfortunately, with its repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC has abdicated its jurisdiction over broadband communications and walked away from protecting consumers, including public safety agencies,” the Members continued. “We, therefore, call on the FTC to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices stemming from this incident.”
The letter was also signed by Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), John Garamendi (CA-3), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Doris Matsui (CA-6), Jerry McNerney (CA-9), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and Mike Thompson (CA-5).