The incident of data throttling by Verizon Communications, Inc., cited by the Santa Clara (Calif.) Fire Department in an addendum to a brief filed by government petitioners seeking to overturn the FCC’s December 2017 restoring Internet freedom (RIF) order “has nothing to do with net neutrality,” according to Roslyn Layton, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Similarly, Free State Foundation Senior Fellow Seth Cooper said in a blog posting today that the county “is trying to make hay over the matter by wrongly trying to tie it to ‘net neutrality.’”
In the addendum, Anthony Bowden, the fire chief for the Santa Clara County Central Fire Department, said that the department experienced throttling by Verizon that “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services” during deployment to battle the Mendocino Complex Fire (TR Daily, Aug. 21). He added, “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.”
As reported previously (TR Daily, Aug. 21), Verizon said in a statement, ““This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court. … 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. Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations. We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.”
In her blog post today, Ms. Layton said, “Verizon made a serious mistake which warranted their apology and assurance that it would take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. However, watching the news unfold over the last 24 hours, it is troubling to see some groups and overzealous activists attempt to twist this story into something it is not: an issue about net neutrality. This was a clear mistake in customer service support, not a violation of rules defined by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order.”
The 2017 RIF order that Santa Clara and the other government petitions are challenging reversed most of the provisions of the 2015 open Internet order, including its bright-line rule against throttling.
“Under the 2015 rules, service agreements like this are 100 percent legal. The Open Internet rules were crafted to police illegal, anticompetitive practices in which a provider could manipulate and slow speeds of competitors. It did, however, permit carriers to engage in network management practices including unlimited data plans that experience reduced speeds when certain usage thresholds are exceeded. Even in the footnotes of the government’s own brief challenging the reversal of the 2015 FCC Order, the petitioners acknowledge that Verizon did not violate the 2015 rules when responding to the Santa Clara Fire Department,” Ms. Layton said.
“The reality here is that in any emergency or life-threatening situation, businesses have a moral obligation to do whatever they can to ensure public safety. No questions asked. Verizon made a mistake in this situation by not recognizing its own practice of suspending speed reductions in the interest of public safety, and that’s a serious issue that must be addressed immediately. But this wasn’t a violation of net neutrality, and it’s wrong for activists to try to opportunistically fit a square peg into a round hole. All that does is diminish the seriousness of important discussions on how to fund first responders and ensure public safety officials have the resources needed to protect our communities when they are needed the most,” she added.
Similarly, Mr. Cooper said, “Even the now-repealed 2015 net neutrality rules adopted by the Obama Administration FCC permitted these types of plans.”
He added, “From the standpoint of an emergency services provider and customer, the fire district’s frustration may be understandable. But the misplaced attempt to inject ‘net neutrality’ into the mix may have its own explanation. … Pro-regulatory advocates have … tried to make the fire district’s data allowance episode into net neutrality theater. … But this is wrong.
“Santa Clara County’s issue with Verizon involves a customer paying for the amount of service they want to use and a service provider’s regrettable, but mistaken, lack of accommodation in a particular circumstance. It’s about usage-based plans and customer service. It’s not about net neutrality because Verizon’s service plan for a monthly allowance of high-speed data with reduced speeds for extra usage would not have been prohibited under the FCC’s old net neutrality rules,” Mr. Cooper said. —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org