Santa Clara Addresses Mobile Throttling & Public Safety in Net Neutrality Lawsuit

Santa Clara County offers an opening argument on how loss of data speed hampered wildfire emergency response in net neutrality lawsuit brought against the FCC.


The County of Santa Clara and Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District recently participated in opening arguments in a lawsuit challenging the Federal Communications Commission Restoring Internet Freedom order, which repealed net neutrality laws.

Santa Clara’s public safety operations were impacted by Verizon’s mobile throttling -- the practice of slowing or speeding of Internet service to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion -- during emergency response to the Medocino Complex Wildfire.

According to an ABC news affiliate report, Santa Clara County disclosed in a court filing in August 2018 that Santa Clara County Fire Department’s Internet communications at a mobile command center suffered crippled data speeds, forcing firefighters to use other Internet connections and personal cellphones during active emergency communications operations.

Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden said the throttling affected the mobile command vehicle tracking, organizing and prioritizing the routing of emergency resources from around the state and country to wildfire emergency locations.

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,” Bowden wrote in the brief.

The net neutrality lawsuit was brought by 22 state attorneys general (from New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington) seeking to restore net neutrality rules repealed by the FCC. Mozilla, Vimeo, Public Knowledge, Open Technology Institute, National Hispanic Media Coalition, NTCH, Benton Foundation, Free Press, Coalition for Internet Openness, Etsy, Ad Hoc Telecom Users Committee, Center for Democracy and Technology, INCOMPAS, California Public Utilities Commission and the District of Columbia join Santa Clara as petitioners.

Ars Technica reported Santa Clara County Counsel Danielle Goldstein said during opening arguments that the FCC failed to address the potential impact that blocking and throttling could have on public safety.

The FCC can’t fail to address public safety, especially in an order that purports to preempt state and local government’s ability to fill that regulatory gap,” she said.

According to Variety’s coverage of opening arguments on February 1st, the FCC faced its toughest questions on impact how the net neutrality repeal would affect emergency services.

Federal Judge Patricia Millett, one of the three presiding over opening arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said that mobile throttling would be an issue for emergency service personnel who are “trying to share photos as fast as they can as they are chasing a fleeing fugitive.”

CNET’s Maggie Reardon breaks down the technical arguments made in court, indicating that the FCC could be held accountable for technicalities related to the transparency rule.

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.