Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular exaggerated the extent of their 4G LTE coverage in official filings to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the FCC itself found in an investigation. But FCC chairman Ajit Pai won’t take any action against the carriers. Instead, they’ll get a stern talking-to, according to Ars Technica.
The FCC’s toothless enforcement comes because they say that there isn’t a case for “sufficiently clear violation of the MF-II [Mobility Fund Phase II] data collection requirements that warranted enforcement action,” according to the report.
To test out the coverage maps offered by the carriers, FCC officials conducted drive tests to find out how good coverage actually was on the ground, as opposed to on the maps that each carrier supplied to the FCC to show its coverage. The FCC discovered that on average, only 62.3 percent of such tests showed users able to reach the download speeds predicted by the coverage.
U.S. Cellular was at the bottom of the list with 45.0 percent, while T-Mobile managed 63.2 percent and Verizon 64.3 percent.
Exaggerating coverage isn’t just a PR exercise for the big cell service providers to oversell to consumers. The investigation was triggered by the complaints of small carriers, who said that by overstating their coverage to the FCC, the big companies were able to thwart small providers from getting federal funding to help improve rural coverage and other areas that lacked good service.
What’s more, according to the Ars report, the FCC itself is guilty of burying the findings deep in a press release announcing how it was proactively launching a $9 billion plan to fund 5G for rural areas, instead, paid out to carriers over the next decade. The 5G fund replaces the 4G Mobility Fund, with twice the funding.
In lieu of any actual penalty, carriers will be warned through “an enforcement advisory” that there are penalties associated with lying to the Feds. Even though in this case, there clearly aren’t.
The money to pay for this improvement, by the way, is coming out of your pocket, my fellow Americans. It’s that obscure “Universal Service Fund” you see tacked on to your cell phone bill every month.