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As people died in the largest fire in California history, Verizon said firefighters would have to pay more if they wanted better internet service to battle the blaze.
It's an allegation almost too hard to believe, but there it is in a lawsuit joined by 22 states against the Federal Communications Commission. They are demanding the government restore net neutrality, a policy that kept companies like Verizon from throttling internet services.
No sooner had the FCC revoked the Obama-era policy than the reality of throttling broke out. No one expected it would start with a deadly fire that literally spewed smoke across the country.
Anthony Bowden, a career firefighter from Santa Clara County, never thought he'd have to fight the government. But the Mendocino Complex Fire brought the battle to him.
In a declaration in Mozilla Corporation v. Federal Communications Commission, he described the desperate situation in fires that claimed the lives of at least six firefighters and eight other people in Northern California. Fires have spread across several states, the ash turning the sky a dirty orange from California to Colorado for weeks.
As Verizon choked their signals, Bowden said firefighters had to find other ways to communicate. It was a matter of life and death, he said.
"Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but, rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the Department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan," he said.
Bowden's fire department had an "unlimited plan," but it didn't work as advertised. The fire chief said Verizon throttled internet speed to 1/200th of the original data plan as the fire raged.
He said the company "severely interfered" with fire crews' ability to fight the Mendocino fire. It's part of the story that the states are telling the FCC. Until the fires broke out, the agency had heard it all before.
The battle over net neutrality has been going on for years, but new FCC leadership ended it this year. Chairman Ajit Pai says it is good for business.