After a customer-service backlash involving California firefighters, Verizon is apologizing for slowing down the data speeds of first responders — and says it will begin offering emergency workers a new unlimited data plan to avoid future mishaps.
The telecom giant also said Friday it will refrain from imposing mobile data speed restrictions on first responders on the entire West Coast for now as they continue battling some of the worst wildfires in the region’s history. The company extended the same measure to emergency workers in Hawaii on Thursday, as Hurricane Lane dumped 31 inches of rainfall on parts of the state.
Verizon’s moves are aimed at soothing mounting outrage after the Santa Clara County Fire Department said Verizon had throttled the data speeds of firefighters struggling to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire — what has become the largest wildfire California has ever seen.
“Our process failed some first responders on the line,” Verizon said in a statement Friday. “For that, we are truly sorry. And we’re making every effort to ensure that it never happens again.”
Verizon said it often eases its policies in emergency situations. But in this case, the firefighters were told they needed to switch to a plan that cost more than double what they were currently paying before normal data service would be restored, according to court documents filed Tuesday in an ongoing legal battle over net neutrality.
The allegations quickly ballooned into a backlash. Verizon acknowledged it had “made a mistake” and explained that the slowdowns occurred because the fire department had used up too much data, despite being subscribed to an unlimited data plan.
Unlike that plan, the new unlimited plan being developed by Verizon for first responders will not restrict speeds “on mobile solutions,” no matter how much data is used and “automatically includes priority access.”
The new unlimited plan for first-responders is expected to provide an identical level of service at the same price, without the speed limitations imposed on public safety customers when they exceed 25 gigabytes of usage in a month, Verizon said in a statement late Friday.