On January 19, 2021, the FCC released the Third Report and Order (“R&O”) in the Digital Opportunity Data Collection matter.  In the R&O, the FCC takes additional steps to ensure that the data collection and measures to verify the accuracy of the data will yield a robust and reliable data resource for all government and private consumers to evaluate the status of broadband deployment throughout the United States.

 

New Requirements Imposed on Providers

 

  • All Providers: Engineering Certification Requirement – mobile and fixed service providers must submit certifications of the accuracy of its submissions by a qualified engineer.  This certification is in addition to the corporate officer certifications required by prior Reports and Orders, but if the officer is an engineer, the company may submit a single certification that fulfills both requirements.
  • Mobile Service Providers: New Mapping Requirement – in addition to the propagation maps required under prior Reports and Orders, mobile service providers must submit a second set of maps showing the RSSI or RSRP signal levels in the coverage areas for each technology.
  • Fixed Service Providers: New Reporting Requirements – in meeting their reporting requirements, fixed providers must: (1) specifically identify whether their broadband Internet access services are provided to residential or business customers; (2) include information on speed and latency data for the associated service available in an area; and (3) provide geographic information on their infrastructure, including cell-site locations or other relevant information to demonstrate the availability of service in a given location.  The FCC further clarifies that facilities-based fixed service providers are required to comply with the reporting requirements of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

 

Verification Steps

 

Under the Broadband DATA Act, the FCC is required to verify the accuracy and reliability of the information submitted by providers.  In fulfilling this duty, the Office of Economics and Analytics (“OEA”) and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) are authorized to request and collect data on a case-by-case basis where staff has a credible basis to verify the provider’s coverage data.  Response requirements for such requests are detailed below.

 

  • Mobile Providers: In response to FCC staff inquiry to verify a mobile service provider’s coverage data, a mobile service provider may submit either infrastructure information or on-the-ground test data for where the provider claims to provide coverage.  The information must be submitted within 60 days from the time of the requests from OEA and WTB.  Further information may be solicited after the initial request if OEA and WTB feel it is necessary.  OEA and WTB are directed to adopt methodologies, data specifications, and formatting requirements providers shall follow when collecting and reporting this information to the FCC.
  • Government Entities and Third Parties:  The FCC specifies that it will include coverage data from these entities into the map when it bears certain indicia of credibility, including: (1) the data was submitted by an entity that specializes in data collection or analysis of broadband availability; and (2) the submitter is able to demonstrate it employed a sound and reliable methodology in collecting, organizing and verifying the data.  Un-verified data that is simply passed along, will not be accepted by the FCC.

 

Challenging the Accuracy of Submitted Data

 

Consumers and Governmental/Third Party Entities will be able to submit online challenges to providers’ claims of coverage in various locations.  To submit a challenge, the challenger will be required to provide identifying information, relevant location information, and evidence that the service or speeds are not available.  Providers will have 60 days to reply to the challenge, which should include evidence that the service or speeds are available if the provider intends to rebut the challenge.

 

Enforcement

 

The FCC requires providers to submit material accurate and complete information and to certify that it is not “willfully and knowingly, or recklessly, submit[ting] information or data that is materially inaccurate or incomplete with the respect to the availability of broadband Internet access service or the quality of service with respect to broadband Internet access service.”  Providers who violate this requirement or fail to timely file their data will be subject to civil penalties and the FCC sets a base forfeiture of $15,000 per violation.

 

Form 477 Reforms

 

  • Mobile Service Providers: Mobile providers are required to report both voice and broadband subscription data on all future Form 477 submissions.
  • Fixed Service Providers: Fixed service providers are required to continue census-based deployment data collection for at least one reporting cycle after the new granular reporting collection commences, but the R&O defers consideration of how long this will be required until after further implementation of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

 

The R&O will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Reports will be due on a biannual basis in compliance with 47 C.F.R. § 1.7002 after OEA publishes a notice setting the first reporting deadline.  If you have any questions or would like any additional information, please let us know.

 

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