Don’t Let Your First Responders’ Data Hose Run Dry When It Is Needed Most

More than ever before, first responders rely on high speed data technologies to manage emergencies. But what happens when their data pipeline is reduced during a crisis situation? A Route Fifty article (2018-08-27) provided a stark example and highlighted the importance of county first responders and IT officers to check their data service contracts. The issue arose when Verizon throttled back the broadband data rates of a county fire department in California as it was fighting several wildfires. From the article:

Santa Clara County Fire Department officials say vehicles they were using as they battled the Pawnee Fire in Lake County, as well as the Mendocino Complex Fire, which is the largest ever to burn in California, had broadband speeds slowed, or “throttled,” to the point that data was flowing at speeds on par with the service from an “AOL dial up modem from 1995.” …

When department leadership reached out to Verizon to inform them “that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services,” their representative told them to upgrade their plans and to call a customer service line to buy additional data, according to emails included in court documents filed this week by 23 state attorneys general regarding the Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of net neutrality rules.

In the article, Verizon responded that public sector data plans contain data speed limits like any other customer contract. Verizon acknowledged that the customer representative’s response was “a mistake” and that first responders can contact Verizon before or during a major emergency to ensure high data speeds are available. The major emergency must be “verified” by Verizon and the article questioned how this policy would apply to an unforeseen or rapidly occurring incident, such as a terrorist attack or mass shooting.

The article also reported on the current competition for first responder customers between Verizon and AT&T. Both companies have undertaken network projects (FirstNet by AT&T, which was authorized by Congress, and a dedicated public safety core network by Verizon) to cater to federal, state, and local emergency response needs.