Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom firms are fighting a bill which would force them to provide unfettered broadband services and prevent them from throttling data use in emergency situations.
The proposed legislation is due to voted upon by California’s Communications and Conveyance Committee next week.
As reported by StateScoop, the bill — introduced in February — aims to prevent a repeat of what happened in summer 2018 during the Mendocino Complex Fire, one of the largest wildfires recorded in California’s history.
During the blaze, which erupted in July, two combined fires burned a combined 459,123 acres, destroyed 280 structures, and resulted in the death of one firefighter, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.
As firefighters from the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District fought to contain the fires, they found their Internet service drastically reduced, having been throttled in what Verizon Wireless later called a “customer support mistake.”
Such connectivity can be crucial in emergency situations to coordinate rescue and firefighting efforts. The fire department had an “unlimited” plan with Verizon, but Ars Technica reports this service was throttled to speeds of either 200kbps or 600kbps once 25GB — the monthly cap — was surpassed.
Verizon said at the time that the company has an internal policy to remove “data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” but this did not happen during the wildfires.
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To lift the throttling, instead, Verizon told the department to upgrade to a more expensive plan.
The new bill, AB 1699, would prevent Verizon and other ISPs from throttling public service plans in the same way as a consumer package in the future during emergency situations. However, vendors are opposing the legislation.
In a letter sent to California’s Communications and Conveyance Committee by industry lobby group CITA, the bill is described as having “vague mandates and problematic emergency trigger requirements.”
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Furthermore, the lobbyists argue that AB 1699’s requirement for broadband service providers to not “impair or degrade” services is “ambiguous” and could cause “serious unintended consequences” such as future litigation.
“Data prioritization for first responders is already provided by major mobile wireless providers and wireless carriers need the flexibility to manage their network traffic for optimum performance, especially during disasters,” the letter reads.
The group also demonstrates concern over what can be considered an emergency, and how long an ISP would have to respond and change its usual subscription practices. The “emergency trigger,” too, should be limited to a state of emergency declared by either the US President or a governor, the letter says.
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According to a committee analysis of the bill, registered supporters are the California Central Valley Flood Control Association, the County of Santa Clara, the California Fire Chiefs Association and California Professional Firefighters, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Fire Districts Association of California, and the Public Advocates Office.
The only registered opposition to the legislation is CITA.
“An essential component of emergency communication in the modern fire service is transmission and receipt of data,” says the California Professional Firefighters group. “Throttling data service can be disastrous to the public’s safety. Indeed, an [ISP’s] manipulation, or ‘throttling,’ of the data rates can render a fire department’s needed communication resources virtually useless during an emergency.”
Previous and related coverage
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Both Volkswagen and Tesla are preparing cheaper EVs
A new report is going around that claims new, more affordable electric vehicles will be coming to market. According to the report, both Tesla and Volkswagen have given new EV programs the green light to create cars selling for between $25,000 and $30,000. That is a price point that will undoubtedly make transitioning to electric vehicles more affordable for people worldwide.
Pricing is one of the main concerns cited by vehicle shoppers for not choosing electric vehicles compared to a traditional car. Many have been waiting for EVs to reach price parity with similarly equipped traditional vehicles. That parity has been achieved in some parts of the luxury segment making EVs more popular in that part of the market.
Advancements in batteries have helped bring the price of electric vehicles down as the battery pack is one of the most expensive parts of the car. More drivers are interested in EVs as driving ranges have increased significantly in recent years. One barrier that remains in the way is the lack of charging infrastructure in many parts of the world.
Many also cite long charge times as a reason they’ve yet to adopt an electric vehicle. With new electric cars in the $25,000-$30,000 price range, one more barrier of entry will be removed. Tesla announced in September that it was planning a smaller long-range electric car using new battery technology that would start at $25,000. Elon Musk also noted that the vehicle will be fully autonomous and revealed a timeframe of about three years from now. The VW car is dubbed the Small Battery Electric Vehicle.
Volkswagen is aiming at a car about the size of its Polo. Volkswagen has offered no indication of when exactly its vehicle might come to market. Reports indicate that the 2024 through 2025 model range is a good guess for when the vehicles might arrive.
Hyundai and Kia fined $210 million over vehicle recalls due to engine trouble
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced consent orders this week with Hyundai and Kia related to recalls of vehicles equipped with the Theta II engines. The automakers were hit with combined penalties amounting to $210 million. The NHTSA found that Hyundai and Kia conducted untimely recalls of over 1.6 million vehicles that used the Theta II engines.
The NHTSA also found that the automakers reported certain inaccurate information to it during the recalls. The consent orders establish monetary and non-monetary measures that will enhance Kia and Hyundai’s safety practices. Kia will create a new US safety office headed by a Chief Safety Officer. Hyundai will build a US test facility for safety investigations.
Both companies have promised to develop and implement a sophisticated data analytics program to better detect safety concerns. The agreements will also see each company retain an independent, third-party auditor who will directly report to the NHTSA. These auditors will conduct comprehensive reviews of the Safety Act practices and compliance with the consent order.
The NHTSA is also making both companies commit to substantial organizational improvements to enhance their ability to identify and investigate potential safety issues in the US while consistently and transparently communicating with the NHTSA. Hyundai is subject to a total civil penalty of $140 million with a $54 million upfront payment. It’s obligated to spend another $40 million on specified safety performance measures and an additional $46 million deferred penalty that will become payable if specified conditions aren’t satisfied.
Kia is subject to the total civil penalty of $70 million with a $27 million upfront payment. It’s obligated to spend another $16 million on specified safety performance measures with a $27 million deferred penalty payable if certain conditions aren’t satisfied. The consent orders don’t impact other ongoing investigations by the NHTSA regarding allegations of fires not related to crashes in Hyundai and Kia vehicles equipped with the Theta II engines.
The NHTSA is opening an investigation into the Tesla Model S and Model X
The NHTSA announced this week that it was opening a preliminary investigation into potential safety concerns raised by owners of Tesla Model S and Model X cars. The agency has received 53 complaints alleging failures of the left or right front suspension fore links. Of those 43 complaints, 11 incidents occurred while driving.
In its statement issued about the investigation, the NHTSA says that the complaints appear to indicate an increasing trend with 34 complaints received in the last two years, with three of them occurring at highway speeds. The agency intends to assess the scope, frequency, and consequences of the alleged fault.
The investigation will cover Tesla Model S cars ranging from 2015 through 2017 model years and Tesla Model X SUVs made from 2016 through 2017. As these vehicles age, they could be prone to defects that didn’t surface when they were newer. As of now, there has been no official statement from Tesla on the investigation.
There is also no indication that a recall has to be issued at this time. Tesla vehicles have had their share of issues with fire potential from battery damage during accidents. Several fatal accidents have also been blamed on inattentive drivers and Tesla Autopilot driver assistance systems not recognizing hazards in the road.
On Wednesday of this week, Tesla announced that it was issuing a recall on over 9000 Model Y and Model X vehicles due to issues with bolts. The Model X also had an issue where roof trim could detach over time, leading to potential accidents or road hazards. Despite the recalls, Tesla shares are booming, having gained more than 600 percent in 2020 despite the pandemic.
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