Verizon makes changes as lawmakers decry firefighters’ woes

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Verizon rolled out changes Friday as state lawmakers said they were outraged to learn the telecommunications company had slowed firefighters’ internet service while they battled what became the largest wildfire on record in California.

Verizon said it removed all speed cap restrictions for emergency workers fighting wildfires on the West Coast and for those in Hawaii, where emergency crews were rescuing people from areas flooded by Hurricane Lane.

The company promised to lift restrictions on public safety customers and provide full network access when other disasters arise.

The announcement came hours before the state Assembly Select Committee on Natural Disaster, Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding held an informational hearing on the incident.

The goal is to determine “how we ensure that all public safety has the tools they need in some of our hardest moments in California’s history battling these natural disasters,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Monique Limon of Santa Barbara.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department has said Verizon slowed its internet communications at a wildfire command center three weeks ago, crippling an emergency communications truck’s data speeds and forcing firefighters to use other agencies’ internet connections and their personal cellphones.

The county disclosed the problem last week in a lawsuit brought by 22 state attorneys general seeking to restore net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission. The court filing alleges that the slowdown was caused by the FCC’s action, which allows telecommunications to slow internet speed to selected customers.

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would require internet companies to restore net neutrality in California, requiring equal data access to all customers.