US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced the agency will investigate whether operators in the country submitted incorrect coverage data as part of a $4.53 billion federal funding programme meant to help bring LTE to underserved areas.
The programme in question, Mobility Fund Phase II, required operators to submit coverage information to help the government determine which areas would be eligible for monetary support. An initial eligibility map was released in February, after which operators had a chance to dispute the accuracy of the maps.
Pai said in a statement a preliminary review of opposition data submitted through that process “suggested significant violations” of the FCC’s coverage reporting rules.
“We must ensure that the data is accurate before we can proceed” he said, adding the challenge process has been suspended pending the results of the investigation.
The FCC did not specify the nature of the violations or which operators were involved.
However, tier-1 service providers have previously been accused by politicians and smaller rivals of over-reporting coverage in underserved areas in a bid to either avoid building networks in areas with a low return on investment or prevent competitors from receiving funds to expand their coverage in those regions.
In April, Steven Berry, CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, said the initial map “missed the mark by a long shot” and warned inaccurate data could “result in many rural areas being deemed ineligible for critical” funding needed to expand LTE service.
In March, a group of eight US senators wrote to Pai expressing concerns the map “misrepresents the existence of 4G LTE service in many areas”. Last month, Senator Joe Manchin piled on, arguing “all of West Virginia was getting screwed” by false data and accusing operators of only wanting to build in areas where they’d reap substantial rewards.
Like Pai, commissioner Brendan Carr said the preliminary review results were “deeply concerning”, noting a lack of access to mobile broadband “limits access to economic opportunity; to a 21st century education; and to high-quality telehealth applications.
“That’s why it’s so important to ensure the data underlying our broadband maps are accurate.”Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back