Senate Democrats Request Investigation of Verizon’s Potential FCC Violation, Claiming Limits on “Unlimited Data” Misled California Firefighters During Wildfire

The FCC should investigate Verizon’s throttling of firefighters’ “unlimited data” that took place during California’s largest wildfire, two Senate Democrats recently argued.

In addition to requesting an FCC investigation, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both Democratic Senators from California) sent Verizon a letter, where they accused the mobile carrier of using misleading marketing with respect to its unlimited data plan. This marketing, the senators claim, misled the Santa Clara County Fire Department (SCFD) and adversely affected communications between its public safety workers when Verizon throttled their ability to communicate with one another during a recent California wildfire.

Senators Feinstein and Harris claim that Verizon’s “unlimited data” marketing violates the FCC’s transparency rule, as it led SCFD to believe its Verizon data plan was not subject to any limits on data or throttling. Although Chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai eliminated net neutrality rules, the FCC has retained a revised version of its transparency rule that imposes a public disclosure requirement on a carrier’s network management practices and its commercial terms of service, such that it enables consumers to make informed decisions with respect to the purchase and use of mobile services.

Verizon argues that the SCFD throttling is unrelated to net neutrality and referred to the incident as a “customer support mistake.” It indicated that the carrier did not follow its policy to remove restrictions on data speed for public safety officials who are contacted during emergency situations.

It remains to be seen whether the FCC will launch the requested investigation. In the meantime, Senators Feinstein and Harris have asked FCC Chairman Pai to request information from other mobile carriers, such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, in an effort to ensure public safety customers know about restrictions to their data plans prior to purchasing them, among other informational requests.

Additional Reading

Verizon Throttling Firefights May Have Violated FCC Rule, Democrats Say, Ars Technica, September 7, 2018

Photo Credit: VanderWolf Images /