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California Professional Firefighters, which represents more than 30,000 first responders, announced its support for the state's net neutrality bill this week. (Photo: @CAFirefighters/Twitter)

After Verizon Throttling During Wildfire, California Firefighters Endorse Bill to Defend Net Neutrality

"Cable-and-phone-company greed is out.of.control," said Free Press. "If you need proof, look no further than what just happened to the Santa Clara Fire Department."

Jessica Corbett

After Verizon "dramatically" slowed the internet service of firefighters battling the largest wildfire in California's history earlier this summer, the statewide union for firefighters is urging California lawmakers to support a bill that advocates call the "gold standard" of state-level net neutrality legislation.

"Whether it's real-time medical response information or connecting the vast expanse of a massive wildfire, firefighters need to communicate quickly because every second counts."

"Nowhere is effective, timely, and stable communication more critical than in the area of public safety and emergency response. Whether it's real-time medical response information or connecting the vast expanse of a massive wildfire, firefighters need to communicate quickly because every second counts," the California Professional Firefighters (CPF) said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement stressed that firefighters "cannot afford the added danger" of "unnecessary interferences" with "key communication resources," especially while facing the "often unpredictable and uncontrollable" conditions created by the "new normal" of massive fires—which scientists say are exacerbated by the global climate crisis.

CPF, which represents 30,000 firefighters as the state council of the International Association of Fire Fighters, "has come to conclude that if net neutrality is not restored, the effect could be disastrous to the public's safety," the statement declared. "SB 822 will help prevent internet service providers from throttling, thereby preventing data speeds to be manipulated, and, in turn, avoid crippling, or worse, deadly outcomes."

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), lead author of SB 822—which comes in response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote last December to repeal nationwide protections—thanked the firefighters for their support, and shared CPF's full statement on Twitter:

Support from CPF came after the bill cleared a key hurdle on Wednesday, passing the state Assembly's Communications and Conveyance Committee. In June, telecom-backed committee chair Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) had forced through amendments that "eviscerated" the legislation, but after severe backlash, lawmakers struck a deal last month to restore the majority of protections included in the original bill—which passed the state Senate in May, overcoming the telecom industry's fierce lobbying blitz.

Though campaigners are in favor of California adopting the proposed net neutrality legislation, their ultimate goal remains overturning the FCC's deeply unpopular repeal. The U.S. Senate in May narrowly approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would do just that, but so far only one Republican in the U.S. House has pledged his support for the measure.

"Cable-and-phone-company greed is out.of.control. If you need proof, look no further than what just happened to the Santa Clara Fire Department."
—Free Press

Meanwhile, attorneys general from 22 states and the District of Columbia are fighting in court to reverse the FCC rollback. A declaration from Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden, whose department had its services throttled by Verizon while fighting the Mendocino Complex fire, was included in a brief filed by the petitioners in federal court earlier this week.

"Cable-and-phone-company greed is out.of.control. If you need proof, look no further than what just happened to the Santa Clara Fire Department," the advocacy group Free Press said in an email to supporters Friday. "When the FCC repealed its net neutrality rules, it didn't just do away with a few rules about throttling and blocking—it gave away all of its broadband-oversight authority. This gave the fire department nowhere to go when people's lives were literally on the line."

"But when it comes to net neutrality and internet access, lives are always on the line. Without the open internet to illuminate police brutality, the family-separation crisis, white supremacy, and other injustices, we'll see more violence and atrocities in our communities," the email warned. "This is why we're fighting so hard to win back the net neutrality protections and return oversight to the FCC.

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