Last summer Verizon got caught in a PR shitstorm after it throttled the wireless data connection of a California fire department — just as they were fighting one of the biggest forest fires in California history. When the firefighters complained to Verizon about the throttling (which occurs on all of Verizon’s “unlimited but not really” data plans), instead of fixing the issue Verizon tried to upsell the department to a more expensive plan. While some responsibility lies with the department for not understanding the data connection they’d bought, Verizon ultimately admitted that throttling any first responders violated the company’s policies and should have never happened.
In the months since, Verizon has been running ads (including one during the Super Bowl) in a bid to burn the PR kerfuffle out of the public consciousness.
But the damage had already been done. The incident has now been a cornerstone of net neutrality activist arguments as to why some basic rules on this front are necessary, and it was brought up repeatedly during the recent opening arguments in the latest net neutrality court battle. And now Texas Representative Bobby Guerra is pushing for new legislation (HB1426) that would prohibit the throttling of first responders in areas deemed a national emergency:
“When the Federal Communications Commission ended net neutrality, it essentially allowed internet providers to throttle, or block access, to certain internet services or websites. HB 1426 joins more than 100 other bills introduced in state legislatures around the country aimed at protecting internet access.
The FCC vote raised broader concerns over who should have control of internet access. But it also came as more and more first responders are using online platforms and apps.”
Granted, laws like this wouldn’t be necessary if the Ajit Pai FCC was interested in actually doing its job. Whether we’re talking about AT&T using usage caps to hinder streaming competitors or CenturyLink blocking internet access until users click on an ad, the FCC has remained largely mute and toothless in the wake of any and all bad ISP behavior, including the firefighter throttling incident. And many still don’t understand that carrier lobbyists didn’t just dismantle net neutrality, they’re gunning to dismantle most if not all meaningful oversight of large ISPs.
As we’ve covered ad nauseum, Verizon and other giant ISPs just got done effectively convincing the Trump FCC to neuter itself at the behest of natural telecom monopolies, leaving oversight in the hands of an FTC ill-equipped to police telecom (the entire plan). At the same time, ISPs like Verizon and Comcast convinced the FCC to declare that states are also prohibited from holding them accountable for false statements or poor service. At the same time, ISP lawyers have been busy leaning on the argument that any attempt to hold them accountable on the state or federal level violates their First Amendment rights.
It’s been a bold lobbying gambit that has seen incredible success in the Trump era, largely while the general public (and even many in the tech press) remain oblivious to the full scope. And it’s a gambit ISPs like Verizon are desperately hoping will be upheld by Brett Kavanaugh should it wind its way to the Supreme Court.