Golden State senators want answers on data throttling

communications tower (noolwlee/ 

California's senate delegation is demanding details from telecommunications carriers about their data policies in the wake of reported data "throttling" of Santa Clara firefighters battling a massive July wildfire in the state.

In a Sept. 6 letter to top executives at AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, Sens.  Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked how the companies inform customers of service plans, as well as their practices of limiting data transmission by heavy users, a practice that has been called throttling.

They also sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai expressing "alarm" over the throttling of data traffic to Santa Clara County Fire Department as first responders battled the largest blaze in state history.

The letters come amid a larger fight among states and at the FCC over the rollback of net neutrality rules earlier this year.  Harris and Feinstein have also backed a state bill, now in front of California Gov. Jerry Brown that restores net neutrality rules in the state.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden detailed the wildfire incidents in an Aug. 20 federal court filing by opponents of the FCC's net neutrality ruling.

"County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon," Bowden wrote in the brief filed by 22 states attorneys general, firefighters and other organizations at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., contesting the FCC's December ruling.

The data slow-down, said Bowden in the filing, "had a significant impact" on his department's ability to "provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."

In their Sept. 6 letter to the FCC's Pai, Feinstein and Harris said the fire department didn't think its service plan was subject to data limits. They asked Pai to investigate whether Verizon's service plans meet federal standards for transparency.

In July, Verizon admitted it had made a mistake in throttling the fire fighter's data transmission during the Mendocino Complex Fire.

In late August, Michael Maiorana, senior vice president of Verizon's public sector operations, said the company had lifted the transmission caps on all emergency responders on the West Coast as other wildfires burned and Hurricane Lane approached Hawaii.

In their letters, Feinstein and Harris asked the telecom companies to respond by Sept. 21. There was no response deadline on Pai's letter.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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