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.