Gaius Publius: Verizon Throttled Firefighters’ Data As Mendocino Wildfire Burned

Yves here. I am glad to see Gaius call out Verizon’s illegal and reprehensible conduct. More readers sent me links to this story than I can recall for any story in years.

Extortion is a fundamental part of Verizon’s business model. On a much less consequential matter, readers may recall that they ended my copper landline service. They also hit me with a final bill that every Verizon rep to whom I spoke said should have been a refund, and one even tried to get it fixed. Despite that plus letters objecting to the final bill, they sent it to collection. Our Clive told me better to capitulate than take the credit score hit, that even if I won the fight, the credit score damage would be lasting and difficult to remedy. When I complained in passing about the unjustified final bill, several readers said they’d had the same thing happen to them.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Thomas Middleditch, actor and star of the hit series Silicon Valley, taking “sellout money” (his phrase) and shilling for Verizon, the company most strongly associated with killing net neutrality

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. As one commenter noted, this is “pure evil.”

It looks like Verizon, already the greedy face of the death of net neutrality, throttled the data speed of California fire-fighting equipment during a 300-arce wildfire in an attempt to force them to upgrade to a more expensive data plan.

During a 300-acre wildfire.

Sounds like blackmail for money to me, with lives and homes held hostage. ArsTechnica tells the story. Since their focus in on the net neutrality angle, I’ll present what they present in a little different order (emphasis mine throughout).

Start here:

“County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon,” Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration. “This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services.”


“In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection for OES 5262 [the county’s command-and-control vehicle for in-the-field firefighting] was being throttled by Verizon, and data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds,” Bowden wrote. “These reduced speeds severely interfered with the OES 5262’s ability to function effectively. My Information Technology staff communicated directly with Verizon via email about the throttling, requesting it be immediately lifted for public safety purposes.”

Verizon did not immediately restore full speeds to the device, however.

“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,” Bowden wrote.

All “in the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire.”

This is not the first time Verizon has done this to the Santa Clara County Fire department, and the department anticipates it won’t be the last:

Verizon throttling also affected the department in a response to previous fires in December and June, emails show.

Bowden argued that Verizon is likely to keep taking advantage of emergencies in order to push public safety agencies onto more expensive plans.

“In light of our experience, County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans, ultimately paying significantly more for mission-critical service—even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations,” Bowden wrote.

In other words, this is part of the plan — disaster capitalism, county by county.

Psychopathic Corporate Capitalism

It’s difficult to use words like “psychopathic” to describe this behavior and still be taken seriously, but but it’s hard not to use it too. Among the characteristics of psychopathic behavior are these: “antisocial violence, a selfish world view that precludes the welfare of others, a lack of remorse or guilt, and blame externalization.”

Verizon’s “antisocial violence” is clear, as is their world view, which “precludes the welfare of others.” As for “blame externalization,” this was their initial response:

Verizon also noted that the fire department purchased a data service plan that is slowed down after a data usage threshold is reached. But Verizon said it “made a mistake” in communicating with the department about the terms of the plan.

“We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan,” Verizon said. “Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment at a set monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle.”

In the meantime, here’s what their serial “mistakes” make worse:

Ranch fire takes another 4,000 acres for new acreage total of 361,562 

The Mendocino Complex fires now are at 410,482 acres, having added about 4,000 acres to the total Tuesday night into Wednesday.

The newly burned acreage, part of the gargantuan Ranch fire, is an incremental increase to the combined totals of the Ranch and River fires. The two fires took off in late July and raced east into and across Lake County, threatening numerous towns and communities and burning at least 157 homes. One firefighter has been killed.

Cal Fire officials early Wednesday reported the added acreage came in the Ranch fire’s north and northeastern sections. Some of the growth came from backfiring operations by firefighters. More backfiring was slated for Wednesday if weather allowed.

Containment on the Ranch fire, which is at 361,562 acres, remained at 67 percent. Cal Fire officials still are looking at Sept. 1 for full containment.

By the way, human beings at Verizon did this; corporations are just buildings and paperwork. I don’t think a legal construct, acting alone and in secret, pulled those switches and shut down their data feeds. Policy start with a person saying yes.

As I said, it’s hard not to use “that word” for this behavior. Ask yourself how the law would react if a living person had acted in this way. Then ask what the newspapers would call him.

The Net Neutrality Angle

Now the net neutrality angle, which ArsTechnica featured up front in the story:

Bowden’s declaration was submitted in an addendum to a brief filed by 22 state attorneys general, the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The government agencies are seeking to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules in a lawsuit they filed against the Federal Communications Commission in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Verizon did say something about whether the throttling had anything to do with net neutrality. They said it didn’t:

Update: The Santa Clara fire department has responded to Verizon’s claim that the throttling was just a customer service error and “has nothing to do with net neutrality.” To the contrary, “Verizon’s throttling has everything to do with net neutrality,” a county official said.

The death of net neutrality — which Verizon and its former council (and now FCC chair) Ajit Pai want desperately to bring about — is all about money, very large piles of it. And while this (that word) industry successfully killed net neutrality at the federal level, the issue is very much alive in California:

California’s net neutrality bill is back and as tough as ever

California lawmakers will be moving forward with tough provisions in a legislative proposal that could turn into one of the most ambitious net neutrality laws in the country. […]

“This will be the most comprehensive and the strongest net neutrality protection in the United States, where we are restoring what we lost when Donald Trump’s FCC obliterated net neutrality,” [state Sen. Scott] Wiener told reporters Thursday, referring to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last year to repeal its national-level regulations for Internet service providers.

The California proposal goes further than the defunct federal rules. The revised bill will contain tougher language that not only bans Internet service providers from blocking and slowing websites, but, for example, it will also ban “abusive” forms of a practice known as zero-rating, the lawmakers said. Zero-rating occurs when an ISP exempts its own apps and services from customer data caps but counts other app usage against those monthly limits.

Which takes us back to Thomas Middleditch, the cool new Verizon spokesman. You probably love him if you like the cool series Silicon Valley. Verizon bought his services so his cool lovable persona would rub off on them, and he happily sold his services to them.

Interestingly, Middleditch called their case “sellout money” in this glowing interview with the New York Times:

Did you ever expect that playing [Richard on Silicon Valley] would also land you a Verizon endorsement deal?

Ten, 15 years ago, if you were on a successful TV show or in a movie, and you did a commercial, everyone would go, “Oh, his career’s over.” But now, it’s the opposite. Studios look at it and go, this major corporation put a ton of money behind this person — he must be marketable. You get your sellout money and a nod from studios.

I don’t for a minute think his is behavior could be characterized by … that word. He just sounds clueless. Dangerous, of course, given the rest of this story, but clueless in that Hollywood way.

Maybe someone should talk with him about his choices. Yes, the cash is good, but cash isn’t everything — unless you’re (that word) Verizon, who pays him to cover for their crimes. Which he does.

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  1. WheresOurTeddy

    I live in northern california. 2 of the fires have been less than 4 miles from my house.

    This is pure evil.

    1. DHG

      My come to Jesus moment with this company came in 2013. I will never ever have an account with them again even if they are the only act in town.

      1. Seal

        Double Ditto for sure. VZ auto-charged almost $10,000 on my credit card for erroneous data surcharges and I had to Xpress mail the then CEO to get it straightened out then longer to get the charges reversed! Hell is not hot enuf for VZ.

      2. jrs

        preferring AT&T lately because they are easier to deal with, even if they too are evil, and they are.

  2. Altandmain

    Hopefully this crisis wakes people up to the importance of net neutrality and turns out to be a turning point.

    Oh and, sites like Naked Capitalism would likely be throttled or outright blocked unless you paid fees in a non-net neutrality world.

    There should also be a law – in an emergency, the emergency respondents should have access to as fast data as is technically possible.

  3. Thomas

    Please do not forget clear thinking in your articles. It is the firefighter’s (or fire department’s) responsibility to fight the fire – Verizon’s responsibility is simply to provide the service agreed on with the firefighters. So if they need faster service, they should pay for it. Without doing so, they cause a lot of harm, not Verizon.

    So it is not capitalism failing here but the firefighters (or fire department’s) responsible person failure in ordering the too slow service from Verizon.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Do you have a reading comprehension problem? What about “unlimited data plan” don’t you understand? Or are you paid to write nonsense like this?

      Verizon’s “we didn’t communicate with the customer” is tantamount to “we committed fraud”. Misrepresentation in marketing is advertising fraud. Moreover, Verizon didn’t even cite a contract term to justify what they did. They just handwaved the fire department should have been on a different plan.

      If it wasn’t so difficult to get class action suits off the ground these days, Verizon would have had its ass handed to them by a court a long time about over this.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You have not disproven what I wrote.

          Contract does not = advertising. Nor does detail on a site get you out of your advertising. And sites change all the time so you don’t know what was current on Verizon’s site as of when the fire department entered into their contract.

          This is bait and switch. This is advertising fraud but no individual can afford to sue over small amounts, as you ought to know. Corporate America has done a great job of making it very difficult to have lawsuits get class certification, so the plaintiff’s bar no longer goes after frauds like this, so they get bigger and more brazen.

          Oh, and because I am an old fart, I forgot you can’t sue anyhow. The microtype has users agree to mandatory arbitration.

          1. David Carl Grimes

            Sort of like T-mobile’s “Unlimited Data” Plan. Unlimited up to 2GB at 4G LTE speed, then the speed drops down to that of a dial-up modem, which is totally useless in today’s world. If you want truly unlimited data, pay $20 more per line or 50% more than the original $40 per line plan.

            What I don’t understand is why Verizon couldn’t have waived the data cap as a public service. They could even have come up with advertising that says they are helping California fight wildfires. They could have burnished their reputation. Now they look like psychopathic jerks.

            Reminds me very much of why the Chinatowns in Southeast Asia have volunteer fire brigades. Because a lot of fire departments wanted the minority Chinese merchants to pay up in cash before the firemen even spray water on the burning buildings.

            It’s a long shot, but maybe, just maybe it will lead to ad-hoc independent public internet networks.

            1. bob

              “What I don’t understand is why Verizon couldn’t have waived the data cap as a public service. ”

              From the reading I did on this situation, is seems that verizion doesn’t even have the ability to offer, or waive, the data cap. The fire department called and tried to get this. They were not able to get an “unlimited plan”, in spite of talking to several different layers of verizon people.

              Which is, again, fraud. They are offering something that their internal policies will never allow.

              1. Kurtismayfield

                Thank you for sharing that part of the story. Replace Verizon with any other citizen in an emergency, and let them do that. They would be up on charges.

              2. French75

                From the reading I did on this situation, is seems that verizion doesn’t even have the ability to offer, or waive, the data cap.

                This is false on the face of it. You just give them the higher-tier unlimited plan for a billing cycle, then revert. If it needs payment you use a Verizon corporate credit card to make it go through. The “We don’t have the capability” defense is corporate bullshit, and means, as usual “give us money.”

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  The unpacked version of what bob said is that the plans various plans are coded to operate in a certain way, which in this case was to throttle. I am highly confident that Verizon has the capability to override the throttle but its little customer categorization put the fire department in the “small fry, no exception” box.

            2. zero

              T-mobile doesn’t do throttling any more on their full-service accounts. They deprioritize. If there is congestion on a certain transceiver then the people that are under their plan threshold get priority access to that bandwidth.

          2. TimmyB

            With their contracts containing mandatory arbitration clauses and mandatory class action waivers, which the US Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld, it is legally impossible to sue large corporations for defrauding their customers. We are living in a new criminal age.

      1. Charles

        Bowden is completely full of it and completely misrepresenting the issue. The SSCFD thought they had an unlimited plan when they themselves knew that they were switched by themselves to a cheaper plan that had less. Read the actual e-mail chain and show me where Verizon failed in the actual brief filed to the court:

        6/29: SSCFD reports the cellular wireless modem is being throttled. On emergencies, it uses 5-10gb per day.
        6/29: Verizon reports device is throttled due to plan, says it will take $2.00 to move to a plan that will stop the throttling (previous plan the SSCFD had).
        6/29: SSCFD internally escalates the issue to get approval for $2.00 increase.
        6/29: SSCFD e-mails Verizon to ask which plans would prevent it from getting throttled
        6/29: Verizon replies there are plans that are truly unlimited and their current plan allows Verizon to throttle.
        7/5: SSCFD replies that they were originally on a $39.99 “true” unlimited + zero throttling plan and would like to see the current options that Verizon has for “true” unlimited with no throttling.
        7/9: Verizon replies that SSCFD was mistaken on thinking their previous $39.99 “unlimited” plan had zero throttling and provided them an attachment of the plans available and their current plan and reminded them that they downgraded from the $39.99 plan to the $37.99 plan. There is a scheduled call to review the plans.
        7/29: SSCFD experiences throttling again after their billing cycle ended on 7/23. They assumed they would not be throttled since the plan reset. It is unclear if they hit their cap in the 6 days between the reset and experiencing throttling again.
        7/29-7/30: SSCFD asks for the throttling to end and to be told which plan has no caps or throttling of any kind.
        8/1: Verizon replies with the data plan: $99 for 20GB per month, $8/GB over 20GB.

    2. ape

      The spread of sociopathic thinking is amazing. To focus on process (legalistic thinking) to the exclusion of results (human welfare) can be found widely across the world today.

      And it’s presented as clear thinking, instead of being deeply muddled thinking that collapses everything into “rules of the game” as if the world is a game of checkers.

      Let’s put it this way: even if (and as per Yves, this is a counterfactual), Verizon in fact did properly communicate with the firefighters and the firefighter’s rep had simply miscalculated their worst case scenario needs, then still the middle of an emergency is not the time to renegotiate a deal (for a non-sociopath), but the time to donate your services to the community to be followed up with a call regarding the need for a different plan for a long-term solution.

      It is everyone’s responsibility to be involved in a collective threat. It is everyone’s responsibility to take care of children, the elderly and the hungry. We are not playing a game reducible to an exchange-probability matrix raised to a particular power to predict into the future — this is clear thinking, that we are involved in complex multiscale interactions with dynamically varying rules (and even dynamically varying players) with life and death consequences. (We can even throw in iterative games with hysteresis if we want to really get technical about why you have to care about others).

      1. timbers

        ape, you said:

        It is everyone’s responsibility to be involved in a collective threat.


        Question to Thomas: What if a fire engulfed Verizon’s main corporate office building in California? Should the worker bees at Verizon then throttle the data service to the fire fighters responding to the fire until they “update to a better plan”?

        1. Mel

          No, but they might give a thought to having their hose-water quota increased. The amount they’re paying for might not be enough to put the whole fire out.

        2. HotFlash

          Morally, absolutely not. But if it were up to me, I’d say, “DO IT!” And hope that being a (mostly) vegetarian would save me from Hell.

    3. Clive

      Rubbish. Any reasonable person making a reasonable interpretation of a claim about an Internet Service would rightly believe that unlimited means unlimited.

      Mature market regulators the world over have sided with this legitimate consumer expectation. This report from the U.K. regulator (pg. 18 onwards) which was itself in response to an upholding of a false advertising class complaint comes down firmly on the side of people expecting words to mean what they say. If there are limitations, what these are in terms of specific applications and specific traffic management must be spelt out, along with so-called “fair use” policies. Where a service is “totally unlimited” there must be no restrictions whatsoever. If some things are unlimited but some things have caps, what the caps are has to be clearly communicated.

      Go hang your head in shame. When you put your life on the line in the service of the community then you find — while you’re in an at-risk situation — that a provider who’s sold you something you’ve been led to believe you can rely on is short-changing you, then you can come and tell me that’s all fine and dandy by you, you don’t mind a bit, your employer needed to read the small print better, and it’s up to them to read up on concepts such as A Market for Lemons.

      This is probably not the best place to draft your first chapter of Ayn Rand for Beginners

      1. JTMcPhee

        Back to a Reagan I believe Secretary of Commerce or maybe FTC head, who voiced the opinion that people should be able to buy dangerous and defective products, if they paid a little less for them than something safe and effective that actually met the advertising claims. And lying about the quality and safety of such lower-tier products was, as I learned in Contracts class in law school, not actionable — it was “sheer puffery.”

        1. Ignacio

          But this really occurs daily. When a TV ad says you that you will be able to sleep tonight with that pill but forget to mention that it is addictive and you will end having pills every night.

      2. perpetualWAR

        “Words and meanings” in today’s world:
        When our courts dispute that “shall” actually means “shall.” Or when our former president tries to get out of perjury charges using “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”

        Those 2 examples of word soup are exactly why Verizon (or any other psychopathic corporation) can get away with saying “unlimited” actually means “limited.”

        1. TimmyB

          This is not true. Version cannot be sued because it’s customer contracts have mandatory arbitration clauses with class action waivers. In this case, the fire department must arbitrate its single claim. No single customer will ever do that. It one did, the arbitration award would only apply to that customer and would only be, at most, for the amount the fire department paid for the service. Corporation that provide services or goods which also require customers to sign contracts can no longer be sued individually or in a class action.

      3. TimH

        Regarding “unlimited”… remember when organic meant just that, until Big Biz took it over and had the meaning redefined as “mostly organic”, and genuinely organic redefined as “100% organic”. Deliberate obfuscation. Mind you, I think Mike Pollan defined most of what’s available in the middle sections of supermarkets as “food-like substances”.

    4. Randy G

      No, Thomas is absolutely right — this is not capitalism failing, this is capitalism succeeding — in unleashing and emboldening the corporate sociopath.

      I think Thomas would concur the real failing here is that the Santa Clara fire Department had not been privatized and incorporated. Just think of the potential profits for shareholders!

      Homeowners who had not paid into a firefighting protection plan would be free to watch their homes burn down; and of course Firefighters, Inc. would have a golden opportunity to ‘upsell’ vastly more expensive plans to terrified home owners as the fires encroached!

      Think of the ‘profit taking’ opportunities! Especially for homeowners who failed (their own fault) to read the fine print, and did not realize that Firefighting, Inc. had the legal right to cut services during ‘maximum usage’ events — unless of course you had wisely purchased the Platinum plan!

      The ‘market’ and capitalism just doing its thing — just sprinkle in a handful of sociopaths to run the whole enterprise.

    5. FluffytheObeseCat

      Verizon’s responsibilities as a US corporation should extend beyond the specifics of their contracts during active public safety emergencies. They are, like all other similar service providers, participants in emergency broadcast systems nationwide. The precedent for demanding more of them during communication-critical emergencies is well established.

      Verizon and all other communications companies should be required by law to provide emergency agencies and personnel with free, unlimited service of every kind during public safety crises. If they fail to do so, they should be disbanded, and their access to key sectors of the broadcast spectrum should be revoked.

      This will not happen at present, because the fires were in California, and it is a California state agency that has publicized Verizon’s malfeasance. The Trump administration does not do political favors for its political opponents. Ever. It actively attempts to injure them whenever possible. Trump, his men, and for the most part his voter base despise certain sectors of the US population much more than they ‘care’ about the strength of the nation as a whole.

      Events like this one are something the mewling darlings of the identity “left” fail to focus on, despite (or because) they impact everyone, nationwide. They are identical to Trump and his supporters in that they too, despise certain sectors of the US population far more than they ‘care’ about the strength of the nation as a whole.

      A nation-state controlled by myopic, dueling elites that disregard its common interests in favor of thwarting each other at every chance is a loser nation. One that won’t be on top for long. And that is what we live in right now. Trump and his skanky minions have made things worse by being so aggressive and obvious about it, but they mostly just brought it all out in the open.

    6. Dugless

      Another point that you have conveniently ignored is that capitalism has failed many consumers who require wireless service since in many areas there are frequently no more than 2 viable options. This is market failure that essentially allows wireless providers to offer crappy overpriced service as the consumer is pretty much in a take it or leave it bind. As mentioned elsewhere, this should be regulated as a public utility.

    7. French75


      I would point you to this. It is Verizon’s Corporate Responsibility report, in which they credit themselves with donating $16.1 million dollars to, among other things, the California Wildfires (look under “Disaster Response”). Verizon themselves claim to have a responsibility in excess of “simply to provide the service”. I quote the credo:

      We belive integrity as at the core of who we are.

      It establishes the trust that is critical oto the relationships we have. We are committed to do the right thing and follow sound business practices in dealing with our customers, suppliers, owners, and competitors. […] We are good corporate citizens and share our success with the community to make the world in which we work better than it was yesterday.

      So get out with your nonsense about major corporations not having any responsibility in these cases. Verizon has made a large point about being a good corporate citizen, and it has failed.

      You know and I know that Verizon’s (and any large corporation’s) CSR strategy is PR-focused bullshit – and it stays that way until we hold their feet to the fire, as Yves is doing.

    8. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      Doubting Thomas is at it again!

      Are you seriously taking the side of the verizon Capitalists and not the Firefighters?

  4. Henry Moon Pie

    In a sensible world, Verizon’s wireless service would be regarded as a public utility and regulated as such. One aspect of that regulation should be to require them to provide truly unlimited service to fire departments without ANY cost.

    1. bob

      Yes. Some sort of public service responsibility on the part of the corporation that is relying on gov to both regulate and police the airwaves.

      It’s not that crazy. It is in fact precedent. TV and Radio still have public service requirments, even if they aren’t enforced at all anymore.

  5. Ignacio

    In Spanish I would use the acronym HDLGP to describe Verizon’s behaviour. In English, I would select nasty just trying to keep it within educated terms.

    1. cook

      I give up; also my wife, who is fluent but bad at anagrams, gives up

      HDLGP stands for what, por favor?

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    This is a breath taking example of just how real and raw the corruption is. As part of that, I assume (I hope wrongly), that the MSM will not cover this, or if they do, they will not breathe a word about Net Neutrality and how it relates smack on to what Verizon is doing.

    Lucre over Lives (and the walking dead who applaud it)

    .That this is not already a major scandal is jaw dropping.

    1. duffolonious

      NPR covered it for what it was worth, and mentioned that it’s been attached to the Net Neutrality brief (as a reason for Net Neutrality) – I think they were saying it was for the national FCC policy change and not California’s new initiative.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Certainly better than nothing, but how much coverage is the key issue. I don’t hear it from PBS nor from any main stream outlet in the kind of non-stop loop the story deserves.

        A web search brings back a fair number of hits on the issue from main stream outlets, but none of them appear to have sustained coverage, much less a “where’s the outrage” pov.

        Another point generally avoided; the intent of the Net Neutrality law was to prohibit throttling of data, particularly for some and not others. Whether or not that includes the up front customer as opposed to the back end network server, is to some degree a technicality that misses the intent of such legislation.

        Either the network is open to all, equally, or it isn’t and until Net Neutrality addresses that completely from front to back end of the network, it is incomplete legislation (if it hadn’t been squashed all together) trying to manage a resource that shouldn’t be in private hands in the first place..

        An event like this, where life and limb on a large scale is mixed up in profit and contractual misunderstandings should without any question bring the issue front and foremost to a lengthy news cycle – full blast – until such time as Congress fully address the issue or the public demands it do so. Think back to the 60’s and 70’s and even 80’s. This would have been front page and on every TV news broadcast. That it gets such tepid coverage today (beyond the usual titillation value), that there is even any discussion about the legitimacy of private enterprise profiting from such a public resource over life and limb, goes directly to what I said above: This is a breath taking example of just how real and raw the corruption is.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          And note that if the MSM does start reporting on this story in any extended way at all, it will be because the public dragged them kicking and screaming into doing so, and NOT as it should be, because of any notion of public interest that is supposed to be a central tenet of the legitimacy of a free press.

          1. TimH

            The public largely doesn’t care.

            People watch/listen/read news because it’s interesting/entertaining (highbrow/lowbrow). People pick the news source either because:
            1. it more reinforces their world view (and perhaps teaches them something new)
            2. it teaches them something new, and/or engages them in into action

            Don’t be snobby and put these categories into lowbrow/nighbrow; it’s more a level of education divide. If you can’t read, you still can watch TV, and there’s a news outlet that will fit your worldview… and teach you to accept that all is well and ‘they’ are doing their best for you.

            Want to change the world, teach people to question.

            1. NotTimothyGeithner

              The 9.9% might not care because they have theirs, but many people would care if they were more cognizant of the world.

              The msm is so dysfunctional we need to devote significant resources to knowing about the world. Maybe Obama really was foiled by the GOP. Then there is the filibuster which I know about because I learned about it in 3rd grade and saw that terrible movie. How many people are going to think, “what do we need to do to get rid of the filibuster, ” or ask “what good is it in real terms” when they are picking up overtime to pay for kids sports programs?

              As far as education divide, educated types mindlessly watch Maddow’s nightly Glenn Beck tribute or nod along to the drolling of the Nice Polite Republicans without ever investigating claims.

              1. albrt

                Maybe Obama was foiled by the GOP in the very limited sense that they didn’t want to let him take credit for destroying social security and medicare.

                The GOP didn’t foil Obama on extra-judicial killings and other war crimes. They didn’t foil him on preventing prosecutions for fraudulent mortgage lending practices.

                You have to search very hard for any sign of Obama having a shred of human decency, and if such a shred exists it is sure to be the kind of bipartisan DC decency that the GOP did not try to foil.

    1. JeffC

      BTW, I’m 110% with the firefighters on this. My brother is a pilot firefighter with a state forest service (eastern US). This kind of crap is personal.

      At the same time, the article above is worth a read. Verizon backed off completely and claims unlimited will actually be unlimited for all first responders from now on.

      Caveat: my personal experience with Verizon is that they will cheerfully lie through their teeth every time to close a sale. I suspect it’s the same re getting the media off their backs.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Standard “strategic nopology.”

        There’s thousands of credentialed people happy to advise corpses like Verizon and now Exxon and many others who get caught screwing the rest of us in a visible and ugly way. There are manuals, and videos, and consultants specializing not only in how to disarm righteous rage among the screwed, but to turn the instance into a marketing victory:

        “Is apology marketing the future of crisis communication?”

      2. Pat

        If I were a first responder I would make sure Verizon knows that their company has multiple reporter’s on speed dial and will not hesitate to contact them at the first mention of “you have hit your limit” or any sign of throttling. AND that everyone in the company is ready, willing and able to testify at any civil suit people with lost property might choose to bring about how Verizon’s actions contributed to their loss and therefore need to reimburse them.

        But that would be that I don’t trust them.

  7. timbers

    I see a commercial –

    “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”….

    Cut to a Verizon Customer Service Rep: “Can YOU see yourself in this position? Any safety device you have is probably internet dependent. Protect you and your loved ones with Verizon’s new ElderCare/No Fall Down Plan! And if you act now, you’ll get a 5% discount on your first 3 months ACA premium payment! Don’t be throttled – Act Now!

    I have sisters and brother in law and father with second vacation home in California. Brother in law frequently mentions public urination and defication in San Fran. When I forwarded one of NK’s articles about California regarding poop in the city, he told me it’s so bad you sometimes have to throw away your shoes after walking about and get new one.

    Third World America. Gotta fund that $trillion$ Department of War and Aggression budget.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Sounds from what I hear that the poop-on-the-streets situation is less a result of the MIC (though they are in it too) than the Big Tech looters who, top to bottom, are manned and woman’d by sociopaths out for themselves and their cadre of like-minded grifters. Drive those housing prices up! Shoot for the sky! Hope you are not the “last foo,” but despise those lesser mortals that take away your trash and clean your streets (oh wait, Neoliberals don’t pay to have such services, any more, shrinking government and all.)

      1. JBird

        The City has had a homeless/poop problem for decades. It has just gotten so bad that it’s hurting the tourism business. Because it’s hurting San Francisco’s main business (OMFG our money!!) it is finally getting a little of the attention it should get.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Yes, I used to travel to San Francisco on business, in my later lawyer days (‘90s and early ‘00s). What a smug and hateful bunch of people, all about moneymoneymoney. Every conversation (granted, a selected bunch due to my work) about networking and profit and “the best places.”

          No doubt in other parts of the metropolis, there were and maybe still are decent people who care for others and display other comity-based virtues.

          And yes, back then, even around the hotels and down the main drags, sad, hopeless people on the streets, and in the alleys, poop, both human and other types.

          “I left my heart in San Francisco…” Right.

  8. Carolinian

    If you go to the Ars Technica story Verizon says this

    Update: In a statement to Ars three hours after this article was published, Verizon acknowledged that it shouldn’t have continued throttling the fire department’s data service after the department asked Verizon to lift the throttling restrictions.

    “Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” Verizon’s statement said. “We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and will fix any issues going forward.”

    The story does not say this is about net neutrality but rather it is the fire dept chief making that claim. Net neutrality is about ISPs throttling websites, not customers for business reasons. This case would seem to fall under a different rule if Verizon advertised unlimited data and didn’t mention caps that would slow speeds. I believe the FCC is also in charge of regulating these mobile provider advertising claims but could be wrong about that.

    At any rate the talk about this implies that Verizon deliberately slowed speeds when a fire happened as a kind of shakedown whereas it appears that what really happened is the fire response caused the fire dept. to start using data up to their cap and kicked in the slower speeds automatically.

    The real scandal is Verizon, ATT etc overcharging for all their services. They should be heavily regulated the way Bell phone system once was. And part of that common carrier regulation should of course be net neutrality. But this particular case does not appear to fall under that issue.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Sorry, but I think that you are not fully understanding the concept of “unlimited”. Here, let me help you with a dictionary definition of that word-


      1. not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent.

      Verizon actually dodged a very large bullet here. If somebody had died in that fire due to the firefighter’s internet data being deliberately throttled, I could see them being sued seven ways to Sunday. Adding up what they would have had to pay out for that death/s, plus the cost of months or years of bad publicity plus having public inquests held on their behaviour in this episode – would it be really worth the minor amounts made for forcing those firefighter’s to upgrade their accounts?

      1. Carolinian

        Don’t be obtuse. Unlimited data does not mean unlimited speed or any speed apparently in mobile world unless spelled out in the service agreement. This is hardly a new issue but in fact has been going on practically since Apple introduced the iphone. Back when that happened NY ATT cell networks slowed to a crawl from all the people going on the internet with their new portable smartphones/computers. Clearly all these years later the capacity of the system has been much expanded, but one reason smartphones have wifi is to keep you off the cell towers as much as possible.

        Just to repeat my comment, which you apparently didn’t read, all this should be heavily regulated, not left to the market as Trump’s FCC head would prefer.

        1. The Rev Kev

          I think that you actually have to hold companies responsible for what they claim and nail them under laws that apply. Maybe the one for fraud? Misrepresentation? This case here is pretty extreme and was putting people’s lives in jeopardy. To me, there are no higher stakes. It seems that with companies like Verizon you actually have to come out with a law that says in an emergency, emergency responder’s traffic has top priority. This is just common sense.
          I was idly wondering last night if those firefighters had a situation where they went into a fire clad in fire-proof suits only to discover that they were no such thing. Upon contacting the clothing company they were then informed they they had actually been sold fire-resistant gear and if they wanted fire-proof gear, that they would have to pay more. It is the same principle.

        2. tegnost

          another reason smartphones have wifi is to keep track of all your activities and interests in order to make more money off of you the consumer, even to the point of the amazon store pricing things based on your income. You’re being very blithe, it is in fact all about owning the data and grifting as much as you can grab. as is made clear in this not isolated incident. This makes the necessity of public wifi obvious. and the fact that we won’t get it reveals the true nature of corporate america.

          1. Allegorio

            Making as much money as possible using technology developed by the government is SACRED WRIT in the US of A. Notice all the corporate Stockholm Syndrome even here on the NC. “Well the small print clearly says unlimited data, not unlimited speed, stop your whining” The battle of All against All commences. “I got mine, and it’s more than you got!” This is not just Verizon psychopathy it is an American psychopathy, make no mistake. Mo money, Mo money, Mo money!

      2. bob

        Failure to understand simple terms such as “unlimited” but can offer a victim blaming thesis in defense of a giant corporations’ legalese. The 21st century Market. Take it or leave it, but don’t you dare contradict The Corporation.

        The victim blaming will continue until verzion owns your children, which they acquired via paragraph 76, section 45, subsection 21. How stupid they all are!

        1. Carolinian

          Let the strawmaning continue. I’m am not defending Verizon and as my comment points out, and the above post does not, Verizon themselves have admitted they did wrong by not de-throttling the fire dept. when requested.

          What I am saying is that this is a regulation issue. But net neutrality is about something else–the relationship between ISPs and websites.

          1. tegnost

            the cynics among us believe that verizon only apologized as damage control. You are correct of course that policy, as in regulations, would fix this. as would nationalizing verizon and making them a public utility that serves libraries, fire depts etc. But regulations are not being offered to the consumer, they are being crafted to benefit the verizons of the world, and in the current form that is axing net neutrality, and the reason to axe net neutrality is throttling for more money and in that scenario crisis is opportunity (for grifting) so maybe not an exact corrolary to neutralty, but the same process. Note that verizon knows that gov agencies have all the money but not that the feds have unlimited capacity to create money, the states have budgets, oh well, learning experience I guess…

            1. Allegorio

              It is time to stop using the Republican buzzword, “regulations”, substituting “consumer protections”. The right has defined our vocabulary to marginalize the left. It is “entitlements” instead of “social insurance”, “regulations” instead of “consumer protections”, “campaign finance” instead of “bribery” The greatest damage to our society by the corporate juggernaut, is living in a world of lies and exaggerations fueled by advertising. It is time to reclaim the language of politics and purge the think tank drivel that passes for social discourse in this age of distortion and lies.

              1. ambrit

                All that goes back to education. How we teach the young to perceive the world around them. Any wonder that Betsey de Vos is labouring mightily to make all education in America subservient to the Corporations?
                We now have an emerging triple tier education system in America.
                Tier 1: Public Education. Degrading slowly into the West.
                Tier 2: Parochial Education. Sectarianism for the (right kind of) masses.
                Tier 3: Corporate Education. Deplorables iz Us.

          2. JBird

            I understand what is being said and Technically, yes there is a good point. As a matter of the real world, it is nonsense. Using a technicality during an emergency is honestly evil. I could have lost family, or more accurately, have had them murdered for profit’s sake.

            Verizon’s executives should be charged for reckless endangerment, but they won’t of course, and that just shows the elites protecting their fellow gangsters.

          3. Yves Smith Post author

            Help me. Advertising fraud has a ton of case law. Your defense of Verizon’s bait and switch is appalling. You have have a case of Stockholm Syndrome with respect to predatory capitalism.

            The fact that Verizon further snookered consumers by forcing their right to sue does not make it any more defensible. Bill Lerach found a clever way to surmount monster procedural hurdles with Kentucky Retirement Systems (actually his wife since he is disbarred). Maybe he can saddle up for this.

            1. Carolinian

              I have no brief for Verizon and have never been a customer. But I believe the “Unlimited but with caps” dodge has already been litigated with various results because it has been around forever. Here are a couple of cases.



              Indeed because it has been around forever one would assume potential customers would be aware of it. But of course companies must meet truth in advertising and labeling standards with, looks like, the FTC as the regulating body for phone service.

          4. bob

            “Verizon themselves have admitted they did wrong by not de-throttling the fire dept. when requested.”

            And nothing about using the word unlimited…..They still do. They have not admitted anything.

            Again, as has been repeated throughout this thread-

            What does “unlimited” mean?

            “What I am saying is that this is a regulation issue.”

            No, it’s not. It’s verizon choosing to use a word that it doesn’t ever intend to live up to. It’s basic English language.

            Rather than deal with that very simple, easy concept, you ride to the defense of Verizon claiming that it is A) a regulation problem. B) People should know better, or C) not net neutrality.

            You are wrong on all three of your scattershot defenses. It’s Verzion using a word they chose to use. They are using and have been using it fraudulently. Regulation is not policing. Regulation only goes so far, eventually you need cops to back it up.

            Why do people like you seem to jump into a debate they really don’t seem to understand in order to defend Verizon?

            It’s not strawmanning. You are doing it. You are blaming customers for this-

            “But I believe the “Unlimited but with caps” dodge has already been litigated with various results because it has been around forever.”

            And yet verizon is still using the term unlimited. What does unlimited mean?

            Now go ahead and put more words in my mouth, while blaming customers of verizon….

      3. Shane Mage

        Happy that nobody died as a result of Verizon reckless negligence in refusing necessary assistance to the responsible government agency. But that negligence is blatant enough to count as downright arson. They should not only be sued but criminally prosecuted.

      4. Dan W

        They had unlimited data. There was actually no cap to the data they were using in number of data used, quantity of data used, or the extent of data. The key here is speed.

        It’s still “unlimited” data but the speeds are akin to what i think were dial-up speeds- it might not be usable for the fire departments needs but it fulfills the contract for “unlimited” data. Maybe not “unlimited, high speed data”, but definitely “unlimited” data.

  9. tegnost

    “…County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans,…”

    when I really want to get under the skin of my friends who claim we are in the best of all possible worlds and live in a “free” market I detail situations like this featuring socialism for the rich and the gross abuses of the gatekeepers. The time for a corporate death penalty is long past. In the end all these companies and their willingly bought employees, by ignoring the true state of the eCONomy (not so great, but yes 96 out of 100 perfect employees have a job, those others don’t count) and grasping for more and more and more are whistling past the graveyard.

  10. Tom Stone

    I have been breathing the smoke from these fires for a Month, a constant reminder of last year’s Tubbs fire in which a co worker died and eight coworker’s lost their homes.
    Verizon doen’t have a clue about how personally people will take this.

    1. Annieb

      Indeed. Makes me furious even though I live in another state. My relatives’ home burned in the Tubb’s fire and they barely escaped with their lives. What about community responsibility is so hard to understand, Verizon?

  11. Quentin

    I have a very limited grasp of subtleties like those expressed above parsing Verizon’s handling of the firefighters request for faster service to do their job saving people, property, forest. In my view the company had a moral obligation to concede to the firefighters’ request no matter what any contract, advertisement or any other kind of printed or visual medium stated in the past or will state in the future. The company’s behaviour was just not nice as we might have said in the past without all the fancy legalese and caveats we’ve become used too (thanks to, among many others, the Clinton Pair, George Bush, Barack Obama, just to mention the most obvious culprits outside the corporate world—or should they be seen as part of it?). As noted by a commentator above, one or more sentient individuals hiding behind corporate personhood took this cruel decision and will never be held accountable. I guess I have to now see such corporate activities like, for instance, television advertisements for medication as natural phenomenon or even acts of god.

    1. JBird

      In my view the company had a moral obligation to concede to the firefighters’ request no matter what any contract, advertisement or any other kind of printed or visual medium stated in the past or will state in the future.

      Most people would agree, but The Free Market is the arbiter and it always defers to Monied Class. Morals ain’t worth anything because it cannot be sold.

  12. Scott1

    I did the VO for an MCI commercial and was paid more per hour than for any other work I have ever done. SAG is an awesome organization. It did not feel evil as it was a communications option service sale, ie. personal 800 numbers.

    Even the post office used to distinguish between Air Mail & snail mail in how they charged for stamps. We are still charged differently for packages delivery speeds. “Just pay shipping & “Handling”.

    The argument comes to be for me, one of psychopathic capitalism that has been a recognized problem since forever, and regulations enforceable by our governments that see corporations as subject to defined purpose as “Utilities”.

    The bullshit belief that the corporation has personhood and is just like born and can do anything it wants to get the blood and more blood that for it is more & better dollars has gotten out of hand.

    Early American history was smart about corporations given charters only to do so much and make so much profit according to the service provided for the public good.

    In the era of the weak government overrun by corporations that serve the public good, and are crucial to the public good and must be recognized as Utilities turns us all into not revolutionaries but counter revolutionaries when the revolution is counter revolutionary & of a campaign to get all the currency created by our government for our use.
    You’d have an advantage in the pursuit of your goals if you had eternal life too.

    The corporation is born in the offices of an attorney. You get a book. It, the book, is now expected to live forever. “Screw with us and we’ll yank your charter.” is what our government is not doing as regards the corporations we knew to be utilities but also knew we’d get some better & faster, if there was a profit motive allowed for.

    Up to a point. Sure it’s great, a great system, Up to a Point.

  13. tokyodamage

    Reminds me of Enron, who created artificial shortages of electrical power in California (in one case, getting a crooked plant manager to shut down a power plant altogether!) in order to extort the state government to buy ’emergency power’ from Enron, at a thousand-percent markup.

    Why do these fake-ass-public-utility goons always have to pick on the golden state?

    1. ambrit

      I sort of wonder if ATT has the stones to charge the NSA extra for a ‘truly unlimited’ data extraction plan?

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Government contracting is where the real money is made especially if it can fall under “classified.” After all, the KGB could reverse engineer anything if we revealed the real price! Those crafty Russians are super good at math.

        I assume anything passed under an emergency without a resulting truth commission operation is inherently fraudulent.

    2. bob

      “The telecommunication giant also said it will move forward in the coming weeks on a plan that will feature unlimited data without restrictions for public safety officials.”

      I’m moving forward with my plan to move the empire state building to Paris. I’m calling it the move the empire state building plan. I’m collecting reservations. $65 a month.

      How long before I am brought into court? Arrested?

      Can I offer to put up “emergency responders” in a hotel and keep fleecing the general public?

  14. Michael

    jumbo shrimp
    military intelligence
    the check is in the mail

    and now unlimited data* hoocudanode?!

    Without taking sides in this PR disaster, I would offer the following:

    It seems that corresponding by email is not effective for emergency situations. Did other personnel of the Fireco use the phone system to make contact? Same response? Did they elevate to supervisory personnel? Did they contact legal dept? Did they yell and scream?

    Why did Fireco argue over cost via email when lives are at stake? Just agree to change plan and get speeds back up. Deal with billing issues after primary concern, fire emergency, is solved.

    AT&T’s Firstnet program for first responders is rolling out nationwide. It claims no throttling. Don’t know cost.
    Verizon lost its bid to be the provider. I can believe they have a program in development and are trying and maintain contracts with existing customers.

    And this: “…throttled the data speed of California fire-fighting equipment during a 300-arce wildfire..” (GP)
    ““In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection … was being throttled…” (Chief Bowden).
    Two very different size fires. A little more clarity would help. BTW, the big fire is managed by Cal Fire and US Forest Svc I believe. Local FDs are there to assist as assigned.

    I suppose it is too much to ask that a data usage warning be in place for emergency personnel in the office. Sorta like running out of gas as you cross the bridge. We are relying on these people so why trust Verizon?

    1. ambrit

      This is a clear and unambiguous case of a private good being in conflict with a public good.
      Verizon has asserted that their ‘interests’ are paramount in all cases. The Fireco, all firecos, counter that a public disaster supersedes all private claims.
      Who runs America, and, secondarily, for what purpose?
      [My blood pressure is rising. Time to go on out into the garden and do something soothing.]

    2. Carolinian

      There’s a very good movie about this called Only the Brave about AZ firefighters. Only the “hotshots” actually fight wildland fires. Local depts usually act in support as their job is usually “structure” fires.

      And I agree with you that reports of this incident seem to have a maximum of outrage and a minimum of relevant information.

    3. Lynne

      Firstnet claims no throttling but in the fine print, it kicks you off the plan if your “unlimited” data exceeds 22gb per cycle for 3 cycles. How long have firefighters been working this season?

  15. Ptolemy Philopater

    Speaking of private good in conflict with public good, what has gone unsaid is the scale of building and development in fire zones, that should be left to nature and burn when they will.

    What about the greed of homeowners $$$ about their million dollar views. What about the greed of developers who build and profit from projects that should never be built. Talk about mal-investment. What are the government subsidies that allow these private paradises to exist. Again, socialism for the rich and socially correct.’

    And finally, and I know I shall be pilloried for this, the fire fighting industry itself, so many opportunities for heroism, in a society with little opportunity for such.

    The United States of America, personal self Interest gone mad.

  16. Jean

    Fire departments should take note of Verizon facilities in the Urban Wildfire interface and just let those burn–perhaps Verizon can hire their own private fire department protection plans for additional coverage?

    All citizens should take magic markers or sharpies to any appearance of Verizon’s corporate logos on sponsorship and other public P.R. displays such as switch boxes on public streets.

    “This company profits from disasters.” Etc.

    And finally; consumer boycotts of all their services.

    1. Jeff

      Consumer boycotts are tough because we have the attention span of a doped up Rodent.

      Getting municipal fire and police departments to terminate or not renew contracts with VZN would punish them, this practice and their stock price if FD and PD depts nationwide kept solidarity.

  17. Wukchumni

    Just received “Important Information” from Southern California Edison in regards to the potential of the utility turning off electricity in the event of a wildfire threatening:

    The key bit:

    What is a Public Safety Power Shutoff?

    When extreme fire conditions-such as high winds-present a clear danger to the public, we may shut off power in high risk areas. De-energizing customers is not something we take lightly. Being without power can be disruptive to you and your family and it is our intention to use this protocol sparingly to manage only the most extreme conditions. We view these Public Safety Power Shutoff Protocol as a last resort, only after a number of other operational practices have been exhausted.

  18. Jeff

    Great opportunity for AT&T, Sprint and T-mobile.

    If Verizon wants to die on this hill, let them. Every fire dept in the US that currently uses Verizon both for its emergency lines AND personal lines for firefighters and their families should not renew their contracts. Police departments, in solidarity with their FD brothers, should follow suit.

    If, say, 20-40% of municipalities who use Verizon today followed through with this and shift to a competitor, VZN will be punished for despicable practices like this.

  19. Don

    Verizon’s behavior is immoral. It’s also so self-defeating, yet I see the likes of it daily from large and even medium-sized corporations. The front-line staff have become automatons (literally) whose whole range of responses to a complaint are limited by the algorithms running their customer “service” dialogs. The reps are entirely disempowered, and from the tone of their voices I’d say they’ve been rendered emotionless, too.

    To reach a human-like human at Verizon, sadly one must threaten the CEO’s office with legal action. Then true customer service springs into action like you can’t imagine. But the percentage of Verizon customers having the wherewithal to do this is trivially small, and VZ knows it.

    An aggressive class-action attorney should challenge VZ’s blatantly misleading “unlimited” data claim. It’s like the water company selling an “unlimited” water plan, provided you water your yard and fill your bathtub with a drinking straw.

  20. Brad N

    I think it is important to have our understanding of net neutrality clarified here. Net neutrality means that an ISP cannot choose to throttle the speed to your website and it has to serve all content equally. With its repeal ISPs can decide your website should not be seen and throttle all traffic going to it. This would be an example of the repeal of net neutrality only if the fire department were running a website that Verizon decided to throttle. Instead it appears to be a case of the data limits of the fire station being affected. These types of “unlimited” plans have been around for years now and reinstating net neutrality will not affect any ISPs ability to offer “unlimited” plans that have a high speed data cap of x GB and low speed afterwards.

    You can argue that Verizon is psychopathic, misleading, foolish, etc. for throttling the fire department, and that net neutrality needs to be reinstated, and that is all fine, but the two issues are different and should not be conflated, even if they sound the same on the surface.

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