All posts in “FCC”

Verizon accused of lying about rural coverage, stifling 4G LTE expansion

Small rural carriers, who may lose out on funding due to Verizon's misleading claims, are asking the FCC to intervene.
Small rural carriers, who may lose out on funding due to Verizon’s misleading claims, are asking the FCC to intervene.

Image: Getty Images/Westend61

Is Verizon misleading the government on just how much of rural America is covered by its 4G LTE network?

According to a group of rural carriers the answer is yes. And, according to these smaller carriers, Verizon’s deceptive claims are blocking their ability to serve these uncovered rural areas.

The Rural Wireless Association (RWA), a trade group, has sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission requesting an official investigation into whether Verizon’s LTE network covers as much of rural America as the telecommunications giant says it does. 

Last year, the FCC required mobile carriers like Verizon to submit reports to the Commission regarding the extent of their current 4G LTE areas of coverage. The FCC would use the data submitted to help determine where exactly it would need to distribute Mobility Fund money — funds specifically marked for areas (mostly rural ones) that lack 4G LTE coverage. Over the next decade, the FCC plans to distributed up to $4.53 billion via the Mobility Fund.

In its request, the RWA accuses Verizon of providing the FCC with a “sham coverage map”:

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.

An engineering firm hired by Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc. tested Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage claims in the Oklahoma Panhandle, an area Verizon’s map contends to almost completely cover. According to the RWA, the researchers discovered that the coverage area in the Oklahoma Panhandle turned out to be “not even half of the LTE coverage area Verizon publicly claims to serve.”

In its letter to the FCC, the RWA states that the one such test to verify Verizon’s coverage claims, like the one conducted in the Oklahoma Panhandle for example, costs “close to $1 million.” Such costs can be prohibitive for smaller carriers, so the RWA is asking the FCC to take over and launch an investigation.

The FCC has not yet responded to the complaint. Verizon, however, has disputed the claims in an FCC filing of its own.

In a statement provided to Mashable, a Verizon spokesperson says that while “no model is perfect” when it comes to coverage mapping, “the Mobility Fund coverage map that Verizon filed in January follows the FCC’s mapping rules and industry best practices for modeling.” The statement refers to the millions of dollars Verizon has spent over the past five years on its “sophisticated model.” In addition, Verizon says the RWA should file a formal challenge to the model if it disputes the map.

Verizon has a mixed history when it comes to servicing rural customers. Just last year, the company kicked 8,500 rural customers off its network for using too much roaming data — data that goes through many of those same local rural carriers who partner with Verizon for service outside the company’s coverage zones.

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FCC claims of DDoS net neutrality attack were ‘bogus’

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, seen here probably realizing that the truth is always the last place you look for it. Like, say, in your giant coffee mug.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, seen here probably realizing that the truth is always the last place you look for it. Like, say, in your giant coffee mug.

Image: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/getty

Pretty much everyone saw this coming. 

A forthcoming report from the FCC’s Office of Inspector General reportedly dispels earlier dubious claims from the FCC that its comment system was hit by a distributed denial of service attack in May of last year. It turns out, after all, that the commission’s site was likely brought to a crawl not by malicious hackers or pranksters but by — gasp — concerned citizens trying to make their voices heard in support of net neutrality

“The Inspector General Report tells us what we knew all along: the FCC’s claim that it was the victim of a DDoS attack during the net neutrality proceeding is bogus,” read a statement from FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “What happened instead is obvious—millions of Americans overwhelmed our online system because they wanted to tell us how important internet openness is to them and how distressed they were to see the FCC roll back their rights.”

The flood of visitors to the FCC site was possibly due to John Oliver’s call for his viewers to visit a site his show created, gofccyourself.com, which directly linked to the comment page in question. The theory goes that it was these people, not bots sending fake traffic, who overwhelmed the FCC’s site.

Surely bots projected this message onto the side of a building during a 2017 protest in support of net neutrality. Surely.

Surely bots projected this message onto the side of a building during a 2017 protest in support of net neutrality. Surely.

Image: MARI MATSURI/getty

“It’s unfortunate that this agency’s energy and resources needed to be spent debunking this implausible claim,” Rosenworcel’s statement continued.

Now, of course, FCC chairman Ajit Pai is trying to blame this on former President Barack Obama. Yes, really. 

“With respect to the report’s findings, I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,” Pai wrote in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable.”

Apparently Pai thinks that explanation will suffice — something that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, someone at the FCC clearly thought we’d buy the DDoS story last year. 

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A single House Republican sides with Democrats on net neutrality

There’s a Democratic bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to void the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, restoring the Obama-era rules that once ensured a free and open internet. 

But even with the support of nearly every Democrat in the House, the petition still falls far short of the 218 signatures it needs to force a vote in the lower chamber on overturning the net neutrality repeal. 

However, on Tuesday, the vast majority of Americans who support the Obama-era policy were given a new reason to hope: Rep. Mike Coffman became the first House Republican to stand with Democrats on net neutrality, signing his name to their petition to force a vote.

Coffman’s surprising defection marks one part of a two-pronged attack: That same day, the Republican from Colorado also introduced the “21st Century Internet Act,” a bill that would “permanently codify” the core tenets of net neutrality and better safeguard the open internet against the partisan machinations of the FCC. It’s a legislative action that Coffman first hinted he would take in the immediate aftermath of the net neutrality repeal.

And though Coffman told Politico that he prefers his bill to the Democrats’ bill to void the FCC ruling, he conceded that his rival party’s efforts were “better than nothing.”  

His signature might just be the shot-in-the-arm that Democrats needed. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), the author of the Democrats’ petition, suggested Coffman might be the first of many Republicans
to break rank on restoring net neutrality.

“We currently have 177 signers on our discharge petition and we continue to have productive conversations with members on both sides of the aisle about signing on,” Doyle said in an emailed statement to Mashable. “This isn’t a partisan issue anywhere except in Washington DC.”

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), whose chamber of Congress successfully voted to void the FCC repeal in May, called on the highest ranking Republican in the House to bring the Democratic resolution to a vote.

“I hope more Republicans will join this effort and stand on the side of American families who rely on and overwhelmingly support a free and open internet,” Markey said in an emailed statement to Mashable. “I reiterate my call on Speaker Ryan to immediately schedule a vote on the CRA resolution so we can put net neutrality rules back on the books as soon as possible.”

Neither Democrat immediately commented on whether he would vote for Coffman’s bill. Mashable will update this post if they do.

It bears repeating that both the Democratic resolution and Coffman’s bill face arduous futures. Even if they can garner the support they need to pass both chambers of Congress, they’ll still need the president’s signature to become law. And Trump has never minced words when it comes to his animus towards Obama-era regulations — including net neutrality rules.

Nevertheless, it’s at least heartening to see both parties starting to work together towards restoring a free and open internet. 

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FCC updates Emergency Alert System to prevent false alarms

Earlier this year, the people of Hawaii received an emergency alert on their phone. This alert read:

Emergency Alert

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL

As you can probably now tell, a missile did not hit Hawaii in January 2018. This message, which explicitly said was “not a drill,” indeed turned out to be just that: a drill. The test message was mistakenly sent out as an actual emergency alert. However, at the time, it took nearly 40 minutes for officials to issue a correction about the alert, sending pretty much everyone on the island in a confused state of panic.

In response to the false alarm in Hawaii, which occurred when a state emergency employee hit the wrong option on a drop-down menu, the FCC is taking steps to make the Emergency Alert System more reliable.

Local and state officials will now be able to carry out “live code” tests of the Emergency Alert System. This would allow tests to be conducted with all the alert protocols and sounds of an actual alert, but fully planned, labeled as a test, and with prior notifications of the test for the general public.

The FCC also unveiled that public service announcements about the Emergency Alert System will now present itself as an actual emergency alert. With these new procedures, it looks like the Commission is making moves to normalize these alerts so tests can be carried out without the worry of an error leading to a widespread panic.

In their announcement, the FCC also outlines the processes that need to be taken and requires the Commission to be contacted, in the event that another false emergency alert is sent out.

These changes to the Emergency Alert System look like they could be helpful in preventing the next false “there is a missile about to hit your state” alarm. However, these FCC updates don’t really seem to prevent what actually caused the Hawaii panic in the first place: human error thanks to bad user interface.

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FCC may soon charge you $225 to investigate your complaint

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinks out of his infamous giant coffee mug. Perhaps the proposed $225 fee to have the FCC read your complaints are going to buying Pai a new very large mug.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinks out of his infamous giant coffee mug. Perhaps the proposed $225 fee to have the FCC read your complaints are going to buying Pai a new very large mug.

Image: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Late last December, nearly 24 million comments poured into the FCC after the agency revealed its plans, spearheaded by its chairman Ajit Pai, to roll back net neutrality. 

The FCC’s rules, as they stand, require all comments from the public to be forwarded to the commissioners, and for the commissioners to take these comments into consideration when casting a vote on a new measure.

Well, it seems like the current FCC doesn’t want to bother having to read through all your comments anymore. At least, not without getting paid for it.

Coming up on the FCC’s docket for a vote on Thursday is a proposed measure titled “Streamlining the Rules Governing Formal Complaint Proceedings.” What does this streamlining include? Forwarding your complaints directly to the telecom company for them to deal with rather than the FCC.

And what if you really want the FCC to get involved? They’ll charge you.

The Verge reports that two high-ranking Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Senator Mike Doyle and Senator Frank Pallone, have sent a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai voicing how they are “deeply concerned” about the proposed rule change.

Under current FCC rules, the commission reviews and acts on consumer complaints. Under the new rules, these type of free-to-file informal customer complaints would be forwarded to the telecommunication companies. If consumers are not satisfied with the outcome in dealing directly with the telecom company in question, the customer can come back to the FCC with a formal complaint, an existing commission legal process – one which the FCC will review – that costs $225 to file.

If the new FCC rules are passed, consumers are left with the option of letting the very service provider they’re complaining about decide the outcome of their complaint, or ponying up the cash to start the legal process with the FCC. And, as Senator Doyle and Senator Pallone said in their letter, this rule change would come “at a time when consumers are highly dissatisfied with their communications companies.”

The FCC has commented on the Democrats’ letter, disputing the details describing the rule changes in the measure. In an email to CNET, a FCC spokesman writes:

“The item would not change the Commission’s handling of informal complaints. The Democrats’ letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the draft order.”

As the Washington Post points out in talking with senior Democratic committee aides, while the $225 fee for the formal complaint process isn’t new, the updated wording of the FCC rules in this measure does free the FCC of its current informal complaint responsibilities.

Mashable has reached out to the FCC and will update when we receive a response.

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