Markey, Eshoo Press FCC on Verizon Throttling

Some Hill Democrats want the FCC to get to the bottom of Verizon's throttling of the Santa Clara County Fire Department's unlimited data plan.

That came in a letter Friday (Aug. 31) to FCC chair Ajit Pai and followed the Santa Clara fire chief's complaint that the throttling of its data while it tried to fight the Mendocino Complex Fire was a threat to life, a complaint that was included in net neutrality activists' appeal of the FCC's net neutrality rollback.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) teamed up on the letter, in which they blamed Verizon's throttling of "our brave first responders" on the FCC's decision rolling back the Title II-based rules against blocking,d throttling and paid prioritization and, in the process, turning over primary net neutrality oversight to the Federal Trade Commission.

They said that the FCC was wrong to think the FTC could police the space and that providers like Verizon will increasingly engage in such practices. 

They want an answer from the FCC by Sept. 21 on "any and all" steps the FCC is taking to investigate the incident. 

They said their letter did not let the FTC off the hook, which should be investigative whether Verizon's throttled "unlimited" plan was unfair and deceptive.

Verizon has apologized, said it should have lifted the limits in an emergency, will do so as a nationwide policy going forward, and has developed a new offering "that will feature unlimited data, with no caps on mobile solutions and automatically includes priority access."

Related: Verizon Will Life Broadband Speed Restrictions

In emails included in a court filing by net neutrality activists, Verizon had last month told the fire chief of Santa Clara County, one of the California counties fighting the largest wildfire in the state's history, that it could immediately switch plans to unlimited without the "throttling" of their existing plan.

When Verizon suggested such a plan for "$99.99 for the first 20GB and $8/GB thereafter," a fire department official emailed back: "All we need is a plan that does not offer throttling or caps of any kind." Verizon responded that all the unlimited plans have some threshold and then charge by the gig, but some have no throttling of throughput at all, which is what Verizon appeared to offer to switch to immediately.

But now Verizon has made it clear that its policy will be, in effect, to immediately provide full network capability in such emergency situations and ask questions later.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.