Verizon “grossly overstated” its 4G LTE coverage in government filings, potentially preventing smaller carriers from obtaining funding needed to expand coverage in underserved rural areas, a trade group says.
The Federal Communications Commission last year required Verizon and other carriers to file maps and data indicating their current 4G LTE coverage.
If Verizon provided the FCC with inaccurate data, the company’s rural competitors might not be able to get that government funding.
“Verizon’s claimed 4G LTE coverage is grossly overstated,” the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), which represents rural carriers, told the FCC in a filing yesterday.
Accurate data needed to improve coverage
The FCC allows carriers to challenge other carriers’ data, but the rural providers say they face great expense in trying to gather the necessary evidence.
“Verizon should not be allowed to abuse the FCC challenge process by filing a sham coverage map as a means of interfering with the ability of rural carriers to continue to receive universal service support in rural areas,” the RWA wrote.
The RWA asked the FCC to investigate Verizon’s claimed coverage.
“RWA’s members are in the middle of the Challenge Process but are expending enormous time and financial resources in their efforts due to inaccurate data submitted by Verizon,” the group said. “RWA requests that the Commission investigate the 4G LTE coverage claimed by Verizon and require re-filing of Verizon’s data to correct its overstated coverage.”
Verizon denied any wrongdoing. “We are reviewing RWA’s filing, but we are confident that our Mobility Fund map is fully consistent with the FCC’s mapping specifications,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars.
The Mobility Fund is part of the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which is paid for by Americans through fees imposed on phone bills.
RWA: Verizon falsely claimed to cover entire Oklahoma Panhandle
Verizon claims to cover almost all of the Oklahoma Panhandle, an area of 14,778.47 square kilometers, the RWA wrote. But an engineering firm hired by PTCI (Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc.) “used publicly available information and the FCC-adopted 5Mbps downlink standard to produce a map that estimated that Verizon’s coverage area should be approximately 6,806.49 square kilometers in the Oklahoma Panhandle—not even half of the LTE coverage area Verizon publicly claims to serve,” the RWA wrote.
The filing continued:
Since this estimated propagation map was compiled, PTCI has driven more than 37,000 miles in order to compile data for the MF-II [Mobility Fund II] challenge process. PTCI’s speed test data collection included a total of 402,573 test points—drive tests taken using Verizon-specified devices that are on plans not subject to network prioritization or throttling. Of the total test points collected, 357,374 (88.8 percent) tested below 5Mbps download speed or did not register 4G LTE service at all on Verizon-designated handsets. The results of the speed tests taken by PTCI largely bear out [the engineering firm’s] initial Verizon propagation projections.
Carriers in other areas would presumably have to undergo similarly laborious and costly processes in order to challenge Verizon data. PTCI estimates that its research “will cost close to $1 million—more than half of which could have been avoided but for overstated Verizon coverage,” the RWA said.
The filing also states:
$1 million is a hefty price tag to test an area comprised of only three counties. Other RWA members are seeing similar Challenge Process costs. Pioneer Cellular, also based in Oklahoma, estimates that it will take 20 drivers 75 days to complete testing in the 24,010 drive-testable, challengeable square kilometers of its licensed service territory. Like PTCI, Pioneer expects to spend nearly $1 million to complete the challenge process. This includes $600,000 in labor costs, $247,000 in mileage, $48,000 for handsets, and $96,000 for data usage. Sagebrush Cellular, based in Montana, expects to spend more than $1.5 million to participate in the challenge process. This figure includes $275,000 for project management and other labor, $62,000 for mapping and $1,178,000 for drive testing expenses.
An FCC investigation into Verizon’s claimed 4G LTE coverage “could save prospective challengers of dollars apiece” and open the challenge process to more companies “who are currently deterred from participating in the process by the enormous cost involved,” the RWA said.
In turn, this could make more rural areas eligible for Mobility Fund dollars, benefiting customers who would get better coverage and more choices.
We asked the FCC if it will take up the RWA’s request for an investigation into Verizon’s coverage claims and will update this story if we get an answer.