AT&T, Verizon and CTIA, the wireless industry's main US trade group, all agree that it's important to provide accurate maps of Americans' broadband networks. Except when it comes to 5G.
"While CTIA supports efforts to monitor 5G deployment, which will be even more transformative than 4G LTE, it is premature to propose standardized service requirements for 5G [for a broadband map]," the association wrote in a new filing to the FCC. "Industry consensus is still emerging around how best to measure the deployment of this still-nascent technology. While facilities-based mobile providers will be required to submit 5G deployment information that meets the 5G-NR (New Radio) technology standards, the 5G-NR standards are technical ones; they do not establish what service level consumers should be able to expect when using 5G. As a result, it is premature to standardize 5G service parameters at this time."
CTIA is the main Washington, DC, lobbying group for the US wireless industry, representing primarily the nation's biggest wireless network operators.
AT&T and Verizon took a similar position in their own filings to the FCC.
"It would be premature for the Commission to require wireless providers to submit coverage maps for 5G service at this time," AT&T wrote in its filing, adding that "requiring 5G coverage maps in this early stage of 5G deployment could reveal sensitive information about cell site locations and even customer locations, in cases where 5G is being deployed in high-band spectrum for specific enterprise customers."
Verizon concurred: "The Commission will be in a better position to adopt standardized parameters for 5G modeling when more carriers have gained more experience with 5G deployments," Verizon agreed in its own filings.
The operators instead urged the FCC to standardize 4G coverage around a few key parameters, including 5Mbit/s download speeds and 1Mbit/s upload speeds "with a 90% probability at the cell edge assuming 50% loading," according to AT&T.
The comments from AT&T, Verizon and CTIA are in response to a new push by the FCC to more accurately map were broadband services -- either wireless or wired -- are located in the US. Such maps are critical to directing federal spending for rural broadband services to cross the "digital divide." After all, the government needs to know where Internet service is already available so it can put money toward where it is not.
While lawmakers and others have long called for more accurate broadband maps, the FCC this summer agreed to move forward on a "Digital Opportunity Data Collection" effort that will collect geospatial broadband coverage maps from fixed broadband Internet service providers of areas where they make fixed service available. That information will be combined with other data including crowd-sourced coverage information from actual Americans as well as additional information provided by telecom operators themselves through the FCC's "Form 477."
It's particularly noteworthy that the nation's two biggest wireless network operators want to take 5G out of the nation's mapping efforts given that 5G has often played a starring role in the FCC's overall approach to broadband access. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for years now has been pushing his "5G Fast" plan designed to free up spectrum and eliminate red tape for the rollout of 5G. "We should seize this opportunity to provide 5G to rural America and close the digital divide," he said in comments in June urging for the approval of the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile; if the companies successfully close their merger, they have promised to roll out 5G across wide swaths of rural America.
In fact, T-Mobile has placed 5G maps at the center of an advertising campaign against Verizon, pointing out that Verizon doesn't provide 5G coverage maps while T-Mobile does. T-Mobile did not file a comment on the FCC's new broadband mapping proposal.
But other commenters to the FCC pointed to 5G as a key element for rural broadband and broadband service maps.
"Millions of Americans in rural communities continue to lack access to fixed high-speed broadband service. A lack of access to connectivity brings with it a lack of access to opportunity, jobs, economic development, modern healthcare and education, precision agriculture, 5G wireless service and all of the benefits that broadband enables," wrote USTelecom in comments to the FCC about the agency's "Digital Opportunity Data Collection" efforts. The group lobbies on behalf of the wider US telecommunications industry. "Therefore, USTelecom shares the Commission's objective to bring high-speed broadband to all Americans."