Editor’s note: This missive was written just a day before Verizon apologized and did the right thing for first responders. Nevertheless, it should not have happened in the first place. This article use Verizon as an example, to address a wider concern across the wireless space. However, the talking points are still valid.
If there was ever a reason for re-igniting net neutrality, this is it.
As an editor, one of my primary responsibilities is to view things with an unbiased, neutral eye. On the other hand, I have a fiduciary responsibility to readers to call out transgressions, indiscretions and other shameful, even illegal goings-on when I see them. This is one of those times when I am calling a company on the carpet.
As we are all, painfully, aware, Verizon throttled critical fire communications for firefighters battling California’s wildfires. For me, this is personal as well as professional. I have friends who are wildfire first responders and the fact that their, (and any) critical communications can be throttled, regardless of their plan (which is the excuse Verizon used to explain why the firefighters bandwidth was slammed) is appalling.
I have, often, written about the underhanded practices of the carrier. Similar actions are perpetrated by the content providers as well, although their services are not life-safety, as is the case with certain segments of wireless. Even after countless exposures of a variety of devious, sometimes even illegal (supported by the fines over the years) schemes, they just keep on marching to the same drummer. Yet we continue to let the wolves guard the henhouse. This latest incident is, again, proof positive that carriers cannot be trusted to watch their own chicken coop.
Congress saw that a few years ago and implemented a strong guard band that would have helped to make the carriers toe the line – Net Neutrality.
This case was not just “oops, we (Verizon) were caught in a moment and it was a typical circumstance. Investigation of the event revealed that firefighters, repeatedly, made attempts to have bandwidth restriction temporarily lifted while they were fighting the fires.
Hmmm, does Verizon’s customer service department live under a rock? Were they not aware of the gravity of the fires in California? At a minimum, this should have been escalated to the top at Verizon the moment the first contact was made. Verizon claims to have a policy in place that removes data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. “This was a customer support mistake,” they said. That is the best they can come up with?
In a statement, Verizon claimed, “We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan.” If I were one of Verizon’s top execs, I would be on my knees, begging for forgiveness and asking what Verizon could do to make up for this. It was just lucky no one died from this fiasco.
I can sympathize with the response from Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden, who wrote, as noted by Ars Technica. “These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively. My Information Technology staff communicated directly with Verizon via email about the throttling, requesting it be immediately lifted for public safety purposes.”
Further, in that article, he also wrote “Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling. But 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.”
Seriously? This, in the middle of the worst fire season that California has ever faced. If indeed, Verizon’s customer service told County Fire that, there should be mass firings.
I just cannot believe that this occurred. It makes an invincible argument for the restoration of Net Neutrality. Moreover, I am not alone. Attorneys general representing 22 states and the District of Columbia are asking a federal court to reinstate it – this latest incident only adding fuel to the fire.
Yet the FCC still claims Net Neutrality is not needed. Obviously, it is.
There are many other compelling arguments for its reinstatement as noted in the states’ complaint. They all point to one thing – the carriers cannot be trusted to be in full control of such a critical resource as wireless. They need a chaperone!
The most notable argument in the Attorney’s General brief, IMHO, is: “[there is] substantial record evidence showing that providers have abused … and will [continue to] abuse their gatekeeper roles in ways that harm consumers and threatens public safety.”
While I took this column to pick on Verizon, they are not the only one. In general, all providers of bandwidth share the same bed. Whether they are a carrier, ISP, wireless, wireline, or another type of MNO, they are all capable of doing something like this. They all seem to put greed first.
I rest my case!
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, Lucent Technologies, , Qwest, City and County of Denver, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner. He is a senior/life member of the IEEE, the Press Liaison for the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and a member of the IEEE Communications Society, IEEE MTT Society, IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and the IEEE 5G Community. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio.