FCC Strengthens Broadband Location Data Collection Rules

By: Andrew Regitsky

Chairman Ajit Pai left the FCC with the arrival of the new administration, replaced by Jessica Rosenworcel as acting Chairwoman.  While he has many accomplishments, Pai’s failure to obtain accurate broadband location data during his tenure is clearly his biggest failure.  The Commission was embarrassed when it found its reliance on census block data in Form 477 vastly overstated the availability of working broadband service across America.  

After years of denial, the agency finally recognized its failure, and in August 2019, created the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, a new mechanism separate from Form 477 that would collect fixed broadband deployment data in the form of granular coverage maps and provide a process for accepting crowdsourced data to challenge the accuracy of the submitted data.  As part of the data collection, the Commission established a uniform national dataset of locations where broadband could be deployed and upon which new coverage data could be overlaid. 

In March 2020, Congress got into the act and passed the Broadband DATA Act, ratifying the Commission’s approach to broadband mapping.

Last week, in one of Pai’s last acts as FCC Chairman, on January 19, 2021 the FCC released a Third Report and Order (Order) in Docket 19-145 further strengthening broadband data collection.  In the Order, the Commission takes the following actions:

Facilities-based providers must comply with the requirements of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.  Specifically, an entity is a facilities-based provider of a service if it supplies the service using any of five types of facilities: 

(1) physical facilities that the entity owns and that terminate at the end-user premises; 

(2) facilities that the entity has obtained the right to use from other entities, such as dark fiber or satellite transponder capacity as part of its own network, or has obtained from other entities; 

(3) unbundled network element (UNE) loops, special access lines, or other leased facilities that the entity uses to complete terminations to the end-user premises; 

(4) wireless spectrum for which the entity holds a license or that the entity manages or has obtained the right to use via a spectrum leasing arrangement or comparable arrangement; or 

(5) unlicensed spectrum.

Fixed providers must report data only on broadband Internet access services, as defined by, and consistent with, the requirements of the Broadband DATA Act.  In reporting mass-market broadband service data, filers are required to indicate whether their polygons or locations depict service that is offered to residential customers and/or whether it is offered to business customers.

For speeds below 25/3 Mbps, broadband providers must report the speed associated with the service using two speed tiers: one for speeds greater than 200 kbps in at least one direction and less than 10/1 Mbps, and another for speeds greater than or equal to 10/1 Mbps and less than 25/3 Mbps.  For speeds greater than or equal to 25/3 Mbps, providers must report the maximum advertised download and upload speeds associated with the broadband Internet access service provided in an area.

Fixed broadband providers must indicate in their filings whether the network round-trip latency associated with each maximum speed combination reported for a particular geographic area is less than or equal to 100 ms, based on the 95th percentile of measurements.

Fixed wireless providers that submit propagation maps and propagation model details to submit the geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) of each base station used to provide terrestrial fixed wireless service because such information will allow the Commission to assess the validity of their propagation maps.

Mobile providers must submit, for each propagation map they submit, a second set of maps showing the Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) or Referenced Signal Received Power (RSRP) signal levels in the coverage areas for each technology.

Each mobile and fixed service provider must submit certifications of the accuracy of its submissions by a qualified engineer.

To verify a mobile service provider’s coverage data, the Commission requires on a case-by-case basis that the provider submit either infrastructure information or on the-ground test data for where the provider claims to provide coverage.

In order to adhere to the requirements of the Broadband DATA Act, and to maintain flexibility to make informed decisions as it implements the legislation, the Commission requires mobile service providers to report both voice and broadband subscription data under the rules in effect on July 1, 2019, for all future Form 477 submissions.   

The Commission refrains from committing to a timeframe for sunsetting Form 477 deployment collection at this time and will revisit this issue after it further implements the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

The Order will become effective 30 days after it appears in the Federal Register.

Collecting accurate broadband data has been a hot button for Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel, especially since this data is used to allocate universal service funds. Expect even more emphasis on collecting accurate broadband data during her tenure leading the FCC.