Industry reacts: FCC renews waiver for a broadband data rule

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to continue waiving a requirement that providers’ broadband data collection (BDC) filings are certified by a professional engineer.

That decision is seeing mixed results among industry groups in the telecom space. 

In August, a petition to extend the waiver was filed by the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and USTelecom – The Broadband Association, after the original waiver (issued in 2022) expired this year.

The petition said a strict imposition of the professional engineer requirement would “fail to reflect the realities of the broadband workforce and hinder broadband deployment for both mobile and fixed networks.”

Wireless Internet Service Providers Association spokesperson, Mike Wendy, this week called the FCC’s decision to continue waiving the requirement a “big win for WISPs, especially small providers.”

Wendy told Fierce Telecom there continues to be a lack of certified professional engineers specializing in radio frequency engineering and broadband network design, and “this continuing shortage could risk delays in timely BDC reporting.”

“Operators must comply with FCC reporting requirements; there are meaningful penalties if they do not,” he said. “For the time being, it is one less regulatory burden to be concerned about, allowing those limited resources to go into deploying broadband where it is needed most.”

In a statement ACA Connects CEO Grant Spellmeyer commended the FCC for extending the waiver, as he claimed it allows broadband providers to rely on in-house engineers to certify their data filings.

"This action will enable smaller broadband providers to continue to make timely, complete and accurate filings without incurring unnecessary burdens," wrote Spellmeyer.

FCC waiver raises data accuracy concerns

The petition from US Telecom and CCA to extend the waiver claimed the BDC process under the waiver has been effective, with “no impact” to the quality or accuracy of the BDC filings.

"There remains an ongoing industry need for a waiver of the PE requirement," the groups said.

On the contrary, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association urged the FCC not to waive the professional engineering certification requirement, EVP Mike Romano told Fierce. Specifically, he said the NTCA and its members continue to see certain broadband coverage claims that “raise significant questions as to their accuracy.”

“To ensure that the national broadband map continues to improve in each iteration, it’s important to ensure that updated and revised claims of broadband coverage will be accurate as they are submitted each reporting cycle,” said Romano.

As an alternative to the waiver, NTCA suggested the FCC instead attach certain conditions so that there would be “more data to back up claims that were not certified in this manner.”

The FCC said the renewed waiver is subject to three conditions. First, providers filing their broadband data must have a BDC submission certified by an engineering professional with the qualifications specified in the 2022 waiver. Providers will also have to retain specific types of foundational network information for each submission made under a waiver.

And lastly, upon request, providers must “expeditiously provide this network information to the Commission.”

Despite the waiver being renewed, Romano said the NTCA is “heartened at least to see that the FCC conditioned this new waiver upon the need to retain and submit additional network information that can help validate coverage claims.”

The waiver will be applicable for the next three broadband data filing periods (data as of December 31, 2023, June 30, 2024 and December 31, 2024).