Sep 06 2018
Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both D-Calif.) today called on the FCC, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile to guarantee service to first responders during emergencies and clarify policies regarding unlimited data plans.
During the Mendocino Complex Fire, Verizon restricted data speeds for the Santa Clara Fire Department, despite the fact the department had purchased an unlimited data plan.
“We remain concerned that SCFD may have been told that their plan was ‘unlimited,’ only because they could continue to purchase more data once they hit their data caps,” the senators wrote in the letter to Verizon. “If this was the case, then this strikes us as disingenuous marketing. By this logic, any restaurant with a menu is a ‘buffet.’ While we appreciate that Verizon has made a promise to lift data caps on its public safety customers in the event of a future disaster, we would like to know more about how this came about in the first place, and Verizon’s specific plans to ensure that it won’t happen again.”
All five letters can be read here.
Full text of the letter to Verizon follows:
September 6, 2018
Mr. Hans Vestberg
140 West St.
New York, NY 10013
Dear Mr. Vestberg,
We write to express our concern with the revelations that Verizon throttled the Santa Clara Fire Department’s (SCFD) broadband usage while it was fighting the Mendocino Complex fire. The declarations made by SCFD suggest that they may not have been fully aware that the service plan purchased from your company contained data caps.
According to declarations made in a court filing, SCFD made Verizon aware that they were experiencing unusably slow speeds while their firefighters were actively responding to the fire. When SCFD asked a Verizon customer service representative to help them get rid of unexpected data caps that were preventing them from using the communications tools they needed, your company responded by selling SCFD a more expensive data package.
We remain concerned that SCFD may have been told that their plan was “unlimited,” only because they could continue to purchase more data once they hit their data caps. If this was the case, then this strikes us as disingenuous marketing. By this logic, any restaurant with a menu is a “buffet.” While we appreciate that Verizon has made a promise to lift data caps on its public safety customers in the event of a future disaster, we would like to know more about how this came about in the first place, and Verizon’s specific plans to ensure that it won’t happen again.
We would appreciate responses to the following questions by September 21, 2018.
- Was the broadband plan that the Santa Clara Fire Department was initially using while fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire described as “unlimited” in any promotional materials, contracts, verbal or written communications?
- Have other public safety customers in California purchased “unlimited” data plans that are subject to speed restrictions after a certain amount of data usage has been surpassed? If so, what steps are you taking to alert those customers that their plans are not truly “unlimited,” and are subject to data caps?
- Aside from the customer service representative who dealt directly with the SCFD during this incident, what other executives at Verizon had knowledge of the concerns raised by SCFD during the fire? How will these executives be held accountable for the role they had in Verizon’s response to SCFD?
- What specific protocols are you implementing to ensure that public safety customers are exempt from data caps or throttling in the future when they are actively responding to emergencies?
Thank you for your prompt attention to this important issue.
United States Senator
Kamala D. Harris
United States Senator