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Misleading coverage maps from T-Mobile, Verizon could result in lost rural broadband funds

The news: Wireless providers are overstating the coverage and quality of their services, complicating efforts to identify underserved communities. Those areas could lose out on $42.5 billion in federal funds as a result, per Bloomberg.

The problem: Inaccuracies block competitors from obtaining subsidies and competing in certain markets because maps show they are already being served.

  • Many network carriers boast that they have the best and fastest coverage and provide broadband maps to demonstrate their dominance. 
  • “They’re reporting hypothetical service, not actual service,” said Christopher Ali, a telecommunications professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Verizon said it can reach 19 million addresses, while T-Mobile claims that it can serve 50 million households, but this doesn’t mean they actually do. 

  • Gerlach, Nevada, already has coverage, according to T-Mobile’s map, but county officials are complaining that is inaccurate.
  • “There is no reliable broadband up there,” says Washoe County manager Eric Brown, whose jurisdiction includes Gerlach.

Coverage conundrum: With billions in federal funds ready to be distributed to help provide internet in underserved communities, inaccurate coverage maps could overlook areas that appear to have access.

Nevada US Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto have found over 20,000 inaccuracies in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Broadband Coverage Map.

What’s next? A bipartisan group of 26 senators is pushing the FCC to fix broadband mapping. 

  • The FCC is ordering carriers to submit estimates of their coverage backed by engineering data.
  • “The maps will only get better over time as the FCC gets input from stakeholders across the country,” said Paloma Perez, an FCC spokesperson. “The maps are not perfect.”

Time is running out: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has been tasked with administering the funds, will issue grants by June 30.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Connectivity & Tech Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the technology industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.