FCC denies ISP requests to keep their coverage calculations secret

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dismissed pleas from dozens of operators to keep the methodology for calculating their broadband coverage confidential, arguing transparency is necessary to make its mapping challenge process effective. Requests from the likes of to AT&T, Verizon, Lumen Technologies, Consolidated Communications and Dish were among the denials.

The agency is carrying out a Congressional mandate to formulate new broadband coverage maps through the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program, with the goal of improving on earlier maps which were generated using Form 477 data. Operators had until September 1 to submit fresh and detailed coverage data to the FCC, and the agency has said it is targeting the release of an initial map in November based on this information.

After submitting their data, however, it seems many operators sought to conceal how they generated their coverage estimates. By and large, though, the FCC has shot down these requests, generating a flurry of denial letters this week.

Verizon, for instance, asked for confidential treatment of its link budget parameters, link budget rationale and heat maps for its mobile network as well as its fixed broadband location maps. The operator argued exposing the latter might allow competitors to target their responses based on its availability information. It also said disclosure of information around its fixed wireless access product would provide cable and other competitors too much insight into its deployment and marketing plans.

However, the FCC largely denied its requests, making an exception only for Verizon’s mobile link budget parameters rationale. It noted the whole point of the BDC is to make such information available and concluded the operator “does not explain why its situation differs from the typical provider, such that Verizon’s information should be kept confidential despite the Commission’s findings, nor how disclosure of Verizon’s information will place it at a competitive disadvantage to its rivals whose information also is being publicly disclosed.”

The agency used a similar rationale in its letter denying a request from Consolidated to keep its fixed broadband coverage methodology confidential.

“The aim of the BDC is not only to provide this information to the Commission, but also to make such data available to the public for purposes of validating and challenging the accuracy of service providers’ submissions,” it wrote. “Public access to the descriptions of the methodologies used to generate fixed broadband availability data will maximize the effectiveness of the BDC challenge process.”

The aforementioned challenge process will begin once the FCC releases the initial version of its new map next month. Challenges will be used to create a refined map location fabric which is set to be released in December. A second version of the FCC’s coverage map – which the federal government is planning to use to distribute money from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program – will likely follow in early 2023.