FCC Adopts Broadband DATA Collection Technical Requirements

On March 9, 2022, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”), Office of Economics and Analytics (“OEA”), and Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) released an Order adopting technical requirements to implement the mobile challenge, verification, and crowdsourcing processes, as required by the Broadband DATA Act and as part of the FCC’s ongoing Broadband Data Collection (“BDC”).  The Order largely adopts the proposals from the Public Notice seeking comment on the process.  Specifically, the Order adopts the following:

  • Mobile Service Challenge Process: The Order establishes a methodology for determining a threshold number of mobile speed tests and the geographic boundaries within a specified area.  Based on this methodology, a challenge is created by associating the locations of validated speed tests within geographical hexagons (defined by the accessible, open-source H3 geospatial indexing system), and analyzing those tests.
    • Challenge Submissions: Challenges must be submitted using either the FCC’s Speed Test app or an approved third-party application.  The individual conducting the test will be required to provide their name, email address and mobile phone number.  The following parameters must be met for each test: (1) the test must be between 5 and 30 seconds in duration; (2) the measurement results must have been averaged over the duration of the tests (i.e. total bits received divided by total test time): and (3) the test must be conducted between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm local time.  Each test also must include a standardized set of metrics, including a time stamp and duration of each metric, geographic coordinates, consumer grade device type, brand/model, and operating system, name of service provider being tested, signal strength and quality, and download and upload speeds, among other things.
      • The FCC will validate submitted speed tests and will exclude those that: (1) are outside the scope of the challenge process; (2) do not conform to the data specifications; or (3) do not otherwise present reliable evidence.  The submitted tests will be aggregated according to the test environment and technology time.  The tests will also be associated with a location in a particular underlying hexagonal cell geography based on the H3 geospatial indexing system.
      • A hexagon will be challenged when tests submitted within the hexagon meet three thresholds: geographic, temporal, and testing. There must be at least five negative test components of the same type within the hexagon when 20 or fewer total test challenges have been submitted. If more than 20 challenges have been submitted, then a minimum percentage ranging from 24% for submissions between 21-29 tests to at least 16% with over 100 submissions.
    • Challenge Responses: Service providers will be notified of cognizable challenges filed against them via the online portal at the end of each month.  Providers will have 60 days to respond to the challenge by either revising its maps or submitting a rebuttal.
      • Providers rebutting a challenge with on-the-ground data are required to meet analogous thresholds to those required of challengers, adjusted to reflect the burden on providers to demonstrate that sufficient coverage exists at least 90% of the time in the challenged hexagon.
      • Providers rebutting a challenge with infrastructure data are required to submit the same data as required when a mobile provider submits infrastructure information in response to a Commission verification request, including information on the cell sites and antennas used to provide service in the challenged area.
      • The FCC has declined to accept transmitter monitoring software to rebut a challenge at this time.
    • Collecting Verification Information from Mobile Providers:  The Order adopts standards for initiating a verification inquiry and approaches for submitting data in response to a verification requests.
      • Area Subject to Verification: The FCC will rely upon all available data to identify the portions of a mobile provider’s coverage map, including submitted speed test data, infrastructure data, crowdsourced and other third party data, as well as FCC staff evaluation and knowledge.  The FCC will conduct verification inquiries to determine whether a credible basis for a challenge exists, and will consider the geographic size of the area, the number of tests taken, the reliability of the tests, the parameters of the RF link budgets, infrastructure data accuracy, backhaul, and cell loading factor requirements, among other things.
      • Sampling Methodology: Providers subject to a verification inquiry will be required to provide data for a statistically valid sample of areas within the targeted area.  If the provider fails to verify its coverage data, the provider will be required to submit revised coverage maps that reflect the lack of coverage in the targeted areas within 30 days.
      • On-the-Ground Test Data: Providers can respond to verification requests using on-the-ground test data.  Staff will randomly select a single point-hex within the standard hexagon selected for the sample where the provider must conduct its tests.
      • Infrastructure Information: Providers responding to verification requests with infrastructure information must provide data for all cell sites and antennas that serve or affect coverage in the targeted area.
      • Transmitter Monitoring Information: Transmitter monitoring information may be voluntarily submitted in addition to either on-the-ground test data or infrastructure information in response to a verification inquiry.
    • Collecting Verified Broadband Data From Governmental Entities and Third Parties: These parties must use the same metrics and testing parameters as mobile providers must use when submitting on-the-ground test data in response to a verification request.
    • Crowdsourced Data: Crowd source data may be submitted through the FCC Speed Test app and approved third party applications.  The data must meet the same parameters and metrics as required for on-the-ground speed test data submitted through the mobile service challenge process, except that the FCC will allow on-the-ground crowdsourced data to include any combination of download speed and upload speed (rather than both).  The FCC will initiate inquiries when the crowdsourced submissions reach critical mass, which will be determined through an automated process that will identify areas for further review. This data will be publicly available.

In addition, the Broadband Data Task Force and OEA released a Public Notice announcing that they had released two data specifications that provide additional detail about the technical elements of the data to be collected as part of the mobile challenge, verification, and crowd source processes.  The Data Specifications for Mobile Speed Test Data provides information on the on-the-ground speed test data that must be collected and reported by approved third-party mobile speed test apps that consumers will use to run crowdsource or challenge speed tests and submit those test results to the Commission’s BDC system; other entities participating in the BDC mobile challenge process or collecting crowdsource data; and service providers responding to mobile challenges or verification inquiries. The Data Specifications for Provider Infrastructure Data in the Mobile Challenge and Mobile Verification Process specifies the data files that mobile service providers must submit when they choose to respond to a mobile challenge or verification inquiry with infrastructure data.  These specifications are now available on the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection website at https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData/resources.

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