Another Nuance of FCC Broadband Maps

There is one nuance of the FCC maps that doesn’t seem to be talked about. ISPS are only supposed to show coverage on the FCC maps for locations where they are able to serve within ten business days of a customer’s request for service. Any ISP that is claiming areas it won’t serve that quickly is exaggerating its coverage on the FCC maps. That can have real-life consequences.

This issue can apply to ISPs using many different technologies and situations:

  • I moved to a home in Florida and was told by Comcast that I couldn’t get broadband without a site survey because they didn’t know if the network was available, although all of my neighbors had Comcast, and there was a pedestal in my yard. It took me 45 days to convince Comcast to do a site survey and then several more weeks to schedule the drop.
  • Many fiber builders routinely take 30 days or more to schedule drop construction – following the mapping rules would imply only showing existing customers on the FCC map. Many fiber overbuilders won’t build a drop over some set length unless the customer pays the extra cost. Can an ISP claim an area as served when a customer will have to agree to pay $1,000 to get connected?
  • In looking at detailed mapping data, I find apartment building claimed within the coverage of large cable companies that don’t have cable broadband. It’s almost inconceivable that any ISP could bring service to a large apartment building within ten days of a request. There are dozens of issues involved with bringing broadband to MDUs.
  • WISPs routinely tell prospective customers that they don’t know if they can serve them until they conduct a site survey. It often turns out that they can’t serve some homes without taking extra steps like constructing a tall pole to receive the signal or cutting down trees – but often, some locations can’t served. There are some neighborhoods where a WISP can’t reach most homes. I’ve talked to several WISPs who are clueless about how to accurately report to the FCC.
  • Starlink shows widespread coverage in the FCC maps, although there are now many neighborhoods that are considered as saturated and where the company won’t take any new customers.
  • Many of my readers know Chris Mitchell. The FCC map for his home deep inside St. Paul, Minnesota showed the availability of gigabit wireless from a WISP. Upon inquiry, the WISP said it was willing to serve him but would have to build fiber first to be able to deploy the needed radios. It’s fairly clear that this particular WISP is using the FCC maps as advertising to let folks know it is in the area, and it had greatly exaggerated its coverage area by ignoring the 10-day rule.

There are real-life consequences for areas that are misclassified on the FCC maps. Consider the pockets of unserved areas inside cities. We worked with an urban area recently where we identified nearly 200 such unserved pockets. If those pockets were identified correctly on the FCC maps, then an ISP could ask for BEAD or other grant funding to extend network into these small areas. But if they are claimed as served, then it would be an uphill battle to get grant funding.

In rural areas, any ISP that offers speeds greater than 100/20 Mbps is effectively locking down areas that it claims to serve – and in doing so, is stopping grant money from funding unserved areas. I can’t imagine any easy way to estimate the overall impact of areas that are overclaimed because of ISPs ignoring the 10-day rule – but it’s not hard to imagine that this could represent an additional 5% – 10% of unserved places in rural areas that are incorrectly identified as served. It’s hard to even imagine the extent of the problem in urban areas.

3 thoughts on “Another Nuance of FCC Broadband Maps

  1. Solid points Doug!

    Would be good to see the FCC doing more enforcement around the 10 business days rule.

    Some sort of new approach is needed with the growing popularity of ISPs using technologies that aren’t resilient to congestion (i.e., LEO satellites & fixed wireless).

    If a provider is managing congestion by regularly opening & closing access for new customers, the 6 month update cycle doesn’t seem fast enough.

  2. This is a critical issue. How can a residential community challenge an ISP incorrectly claiming 100/20 across a census block?

  3. I run an ISP so let me put the other side of the equasion in. We run wireless, ethernet, and fiber. The sentiment of this all is right, but some of the details are not so, it’s just hidden from the consumer.

    Obiously, an unserviced home needs to be built to in some way. wISP, fISP, Cableco, whatever. The 10 day rule is not a ‘buildable’ timeline. Frankly, this should have been 7 days ie, allow the ISP time to schedule a tech to install. Any sort of a build is necessarily longer. Just transporting equipment around and scheduling the construction crews takes longer. I think this ‘rule’ is being exploited by providers to say they COULD build *in ideal circumstances*. Almost like an intentional loophole built in.

    That rule also says basically ‘at normal pricing’. so having some extra charge to make the build should be caught as a false coverage claim.

    MDU’s are a special challenge. OTARD, the allowances for consumers to get services installed, do not apply to MDU’s common areas, so the installation may not be possible at all despite having service ‘to the curb’. Take note of all the sat dishes you see on balconies as evidence, that’s an exclusive use area so is allowed, the building owners likely do not allow a wall installation and would be a hinderance to any other product comming in, probably by some exclusive use contract that is not technically legal but there are multiple built-in loopholes large providers are doing and getting away with.

    wISPs have these struggles plus line-of-site requirements or expensive equipment to punch through trees. Most homes require a survey. There is LIDAR software available that gets up to ~95% accuracy but it is an added cost AND the LIDAR coverage isn’t very good. I have LIDAR available for approximately 30% of the service area.

    Cable/Fiber have issues like crossing easements, street/sidewalk construction and repair, ordanances for overhead cable, etc.

    Now, the BDC mapping does have a reporting model and people use the heck out of it, but the FCC has said that it wont get aggressive until likely spring 2024 since the system is new. That could include fines for falsified information or being banned from FCC licenses etc.

    Right now in my coverage area (many thousands of sq miles) I have falsified results almost everywhere. Some companies are using it to block RDOF/BEAD/similar funds because they show it as services, some using it as advertisement.

    Not to say that installs can’t happen, but that the BDC doesn’t have enough information or enough ‘truth’ baked in. It should say ‘servicable immediately’ vs ‘willing to build/service within 45 days’ or something along those lines. And there needs to be teeth in the falsifying on information. I’m not talking about 5% of customers the software tells you can be serviced either not or requiring special effort, but the wholesale falsification of data like claiming there’s 1G fiber because you plan to build there sometime in the next couple years.

Leave a Reply