Amid everything else that’s happening in today’s political climate, the debate over net neutrality tends to fly a bit under the radar, but it’s a crucial one nonetheless. The companies that control people’s data plans and their Internet access now have a profound amount of power over people and organizations and how they access resources online. While this gives companies great potential to rake in profits, it also presents opportunities for mistakes that can seriously damage their reputations.
For example, Verizon is currently coming under fire due to allegations that the company limited firefighters’ access to data plans as they attempted to fight a major fire in Mendocino, California. According to NPR, the fire chief in Santa Clara says that his team’s Internet access slowed to a crawl just as they were trying to coordinate their response to a potentially deadly blaze.
The central issue here is whether Verizon abused the new regulations on net neutrality in how they administered the firefighters’ access.
“Verizon’s throttling has everything to do with net neutrality,” Santa Clara County counsel James Williams argued. “It shows that the ISPs will act in their economic interests, even at the expense of public safety. That is exactly what the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality allows and encourages.”
Verizon, meanwhile, is acknowledging that it made an error but is arguing that the situation had nothing to do with any net neutrality policy.
“Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” a company spokesperson said. “In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake.”
Both sides are going to make their case, and this is not going to be an isolated incident. In the post-net neutrality era, these disputes are going to happen all the time. When announcing the rollback last year, FCC chief Ajit Pai called net neutrality “heavy-handed” and happily announced a return to a “light touch” style of regulating the industry.