T-Mobile has denied an allegation that it lied to the Federal Communications Commission about the extent of its 4G LTE coverage.
A group that represents small rural carriers says that T-Mobile claimed to have 4G LTE coverage in places where it hadn’t yet installed 4G equipment. That would violate FCC rules and potentially prevent small carriers from getting network construction money in unserved areas.
T-Mobile said the allegations made by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) in an FCC filing on Friday “are patently false.”
“RWA’s misrepresentations are part of an ongoing pattern of baseless allegations by the organization against T-Mobile designed to delay or thwart competition in rural America and deprive rural Americans of meaningful choice for broadband services,” T-Mobile wrote. “The organization’s repeated disregard for fact-based advocacy is a disrespectful waste of Commission time and resources.”
RWA members have conducted millions of speed tests at their own expense to determine whether the major carriers’ coverage claims are correct. The RWA says both Verizon and T-Mobile have exaggerated coverage, and the FCC is taking the allegations seriously.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced last week that the FCC has begun an investigation and that a preliminary review of speed-test data “suggested significant violations of the Commission’s rules.” The FCC has not said which carrier or carriers violated the rules.
“Under penalty of perjury”
The FCC last year required carriers to file maps and data indicating their current 4G LTE coverage with speeds of at least 5Mbps. Carriers must provide “a certification, under penalty of perjury, by a qualified engineer that the propagation maps and model details reflect the filer’s coverage as of the generation date of the map in accordance with all other parameters,” the FCC order said.
This data is supposed to help the FCC determine where to distribute up to $4.5 billion in Mobility Fund money over the next 10 years. Inaccurate data could result in small carriers not getting the network construction funding in un-served areas.
In T-Mobile’s case, the RWA said that “T-Mobile projected its 4G LTE coverage and reported coverage to the Commission ahead of or by the January 4, 2018, deadline instead of the coverage it had in place by the January 4, 2018, deadline.”
T-Mobile’s new FCC filing says that is inaccurate:
Contrary to RWA’s claim that T-Mobile submitted “future” coverage, T-Mobile followed required procedures and submitted shapefiles reflecting 4G LTE coverage as of December 2017. This is consistent with the Commission’s instructions that mobile providers should submit shapefiles reflecting coverage “as of August 4, 2017, or later.” The 4G LTE coverage maps are a static snapshot in time. Rather than overstating T-Mobile coverage, the submitted files more likely understate coverage as T-Mobile continued to expand its network throughout the challenge process.
T-Mobile also said that it “has not been contacted by the Commission regarding the agency’s announced investigation… and has no reason to believe that T-Mobile is involved.”
The RWA is not backing down from its allegations. Speed tests conducted by RWA members “from March through November show that T-Mobile’s coverage is not what it has claimed in its January coverage filing,” the group told Ars today.
“The issue is whether the filing T-Mobile made in January accurately depicted its coverage at that time,” the RWA continued. “Our members who test drove T-Mobile’s areas in their markets found that in over 90 percent of the testing, T-Mobile’s January 4, 2018, coverage data did not meet the 5Mbps download criteria.”
It’ll be up to the FCC to figure out who is right. For now, the commission has suspended the next phase of the data-challenge process pending the results of its investigation.