In an FCC filing, a coalition of broadband providers, called the Accurate Broadband Data Alliance, said 'LTD Broadband/GigFire LLC and others' are over-reporting their service availability and reach on the FCC's broadband map.

Nicole Ferraro, Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast

February 21, 2024

6 Min Read
FCC National Broadband Map homepage
(Source: FCC)

A broadband coalition called the Accurate Broadband Data Alliance (ABDA) is warning the FCC that its national broadband map contains errors that "will hinder and, in many cases, prevent deployment of essential broadband services by redirecting funds away from areas truly lacking sufficient broadband."

In a filing published Tuesday, the group alleges that "significant errors" exist throughout the broadband map, due in part to incorrect reporting by some ISPs.

"A number of carriers, including LTD Broadband/GigFire LLC and others, continue to overreport Internet service availability, particularly in relation to fixed wireless network capabilities and reach," said the ABDA filing.

According to an appendix included in the filing, the ABDA comprises 51 local service providers, including Albany Mutual Telephone Association, Arrowhead Communications Corporation, Blue Earth Valley Communications (Bevcomm), Farmers Cooperative Telephone Company, Great Plains Communications, Red River Communications, Tekstar and others. The group describes itself as "a coalition of broadband Internet Service Providers ('ISPs') in the upper Midwest that seek to educate lawmakers and policy creators on the implications certain practices have on the accuracy of broadband data and to improve the accuracy of such data."

Related:What you need to know about the national broadband map

Suggested changes

The ABDA coalition, which submitted its filing in response to the FCC's request for comment on its mapping challenge process, is thus suggesting a "few refining adjustments to the existing process" that it says will result in a more accurate map.

Specifically, ABDA's suggested changes include "updating the available challenge code categories and allowing challengers an opportunity to rebut provider responses" as well as "the enforcement of significant penalties against bad actors."

ABDA adds that, with the forthcoming $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program relying on the FCC map to determine which locations are eligible for grants, "time is of the essence" for getting the process right.

In addition to various modifications to the challenge code categories (or the reasons an entity can select for filing a service availability challenge), the coalition wants to see changes that would make it harder for operators to file inaccurate service claims.

"Attempting to assess operational capabilities of a network such as a fixed wireless network becomes nearly impossible without any data identifying equipment type or tower locations or other information that would inform an engineering analysis. This has already led to some providers skirting by with responses to challenges that are deceptive at best and wholly inaccurate at worst," reads the ABDA filing.

Related:Version two of FCC broadband map increases unserved locations by 0.2%

'Some providers'

The ABDA filing references "some providers" but points to one as particularly problematic: LTD Broadband.

In footnotes, ABDA referred to its member companies' disputes with LTD Broadband, saying that the ISP "responded to submitted challenges with accusations that ABDA member companies fabricated screenshots with an intent to deceive the FCC."

Further, says the ABDA filing, when one of its member companies, Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative (ITC), submitted a challenge of 1,300 LTD Broadband locations, LTD "failed to contact ITC during the specified interaction phase of the challenge process, then falsely stated in its response to the Commission that ITC provided no response."

The filing makes other claims against LTD Broadband/GigFire, including that the company "was not registered to do business in Minnesota, South Dakota, or Iowa until September 21, 2023. However, in its BDC filings GigFire LLC claims to have provided broadband service prior to this registration date."

The group also said that, in 2023, LTD refiled all its locations under GigFire LLC, "thus rendering challenges submitted against LTD locations effectively moot and requiring a duplication of Commission and challenging providers' efforts to re-challenge all locations again under GigFire."

Related:Rosenworcel: Version two of broadband map will address 'most, if not all' concerns

LTD Broadband/GigFire did not respond to Light Reading's request for comment on the filing's claims as of this writing. Notably, LTD Broadband was originally the biggest winner in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) until the FCC rejected its long-form application in 2022.

While the ABDA filing uses LTD Broadband as an example, it also claims the issue of inaccurate rebuttals to challenges is a problem with multiple carriers.

"ABDA members have experienced numerous instances of a responding provider submitting a response to their challenges that includes entirely erroneous information, inaccurate accusations, and demonstrably false statements such as alleged attempts to reach out to a challenging entity that never actually occurred," says the broadband alliance.

"Because the process does not allow it, these ABDA members have had no opportunity to correct these inaccuracies and provide further insight before the Commission makes a determination," the group adds.

Others agree

In another filing on the challenge process, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association also urged the FCC to refine its challenge codes and collect more accurate data upfront – particularly on fixed wireless deployments.

Pointing to numbers from the FCC showing that, out of 3.7 million fixed availability challenges filed, 2.2 million were "conceded by providers," NTCA said: "While this makes for a better map, this should not be seen as a success story.

"To the contrary, this should be seen as a 'red flag' that, whether by intent or neglect, providers are submitting coverage claims that do not correspond to reality on the ground and only correcting them after those errors are caught by someone else," NTCA added. "A better evidentiary foundation in the initial submissions would almost certainly help to minimize such erroneous reporting upfront and in turn reduce the volume of challenges required on the back end to set the record straight."

Like the ABDA filing, NTCA also points fingers at LTD Broadband, saying the provider "purports to offer at least 150/50 Mbps symmetrical broadband service using unlicensed fixed wireless spectrum to over 300,000 locations across a geography composed of what appears to be more than one-third of each of Minnesota and Iowa and sizeable portions as well of Nebraska and South Dakota. Yet it has provided no meaningful data to back up this claim."

Collecting more network details upfront would alleviate some of this, according to NTCA.

"It is difficult, if not impossible, to assess providers' coverage claims – particularly over large rural geographic areas with large numbers of locations – without access to the underlying assumptions that form the basis of such coverage claims, such as the propagation models used, base station locations and height," reads NTCA's filing.

"While these recommendations relate to the submission of data upfront in the BDC reporting process, they represent perhaps the most meaningful steps the Commission could take to improve the workings of the challenge processes and ultimately result in more accurate maps," the group added.

About the Author(s)

Nicole Ferraro

Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast, Light Reading

Nicole covers broadband, policy and the digital divide. She hosts The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast and tracks broadband builds in The Buildout column. Some* call her the Broadband Broad (*nobody).

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