After Verizon throttling during California fires, emergency workers freed from speed caps

The company says that includes emergency workers fighting fires on the West Coast and Hurricane Lane in Hawaii.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read
Firefighters take a moment to observe flames.

California firefighters battling a fire in Big Sur. Verizon says all first responders dealing with fires on the West Coast will see their speed caps lifted. 

Getty Images

Verizon is offering an olive branch after royally fumbling how it dealt with emergency responders in California. 

The nation's largest wireless carrier said it's lifted all speed caps for first responders on the West Coast battling wildfires, as well as for emergency workers in Hawaii, who are dealing with Hurricane Lane. It added that if another disaster arises, it'll lift restrictions on public safety customers. 

The company said it also plans to introduce a new plan next week for first responders with unlimited data, no mobile caps and priority access. 

The actions come after Verizon drew widespread criticism for throttling first responders who were battling the Mendocino Complex fire in California. The revelations emerged this week out of a court filing, and immediately raised concerns that this was a potential violation of net neutrality and further illustration of a carrier abusing its power. 

Verizon said the move to throttle the firefighters was the result of an employee mistake. The company added that it has a plan in place to remove the restrictions in emergency situations, but that customer support failed to act on that plan. 

"In supporting first responders in the Mendocino fire, we didn't live up to our own promise of service and performance excellence when our process failed some first responders on the line, battling a massive California wildfire," Mike Maiorana, senior vice president of public sector for Verizon, said in a statement. "For that, we are truly sorry. And we're making every effort to ensure that it never happens again." 

Despite the concern, this was not a net neutrality issue. This incident dealt with firefighters exceeding their limit of data, while net neutrality deals with how different kinds of traffic or content is treated. Verizon wasn't playing favorites when it came to the data that the firefighters received. It -- wrongly, by its own admission -- slowed down the connection because of the volume of data, not the specific type. Those nuances sometimes get lost in the heated argument over net neutrality. 

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