Broadband Providers Accused of Gaming System

John Lister's picture

Internet providers have been accused of misleading claims as to where they offer service. The apparently false information could affect which areas benefit from a $42 billion government fund to get more homes online.

Internet service providers have supplied data to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for coverage maps as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. That will help fund broadband networks in areas that don't currently have access, usually because they are too remote or sparsely populated to make it commercially worthwhile for companies to install new cabling.

While companies can apply for the funding, one of the key factors in deciding where to put the money is the FCC's database of existing coverage. The problem is that the maps rely partly on reports from broadband companies, and some of the reports may not be as accurate as one might hope.

Motivation To Mislead

Some more cynical observers have noted there's an incentive for Company A to claim it offers service in an area in hopes of making it less likely that Company B will get funding to expand into that area.

Another variation would be that Company A currently offering slow-speed copper-line services in an area, but saying they actually offer high-speed fiber Internet. That would make it less likely Company B would get funding for a fiber network that would help it win customers. Company A may later decide that even with the subsidy, it's more profitable to simply stick to the slow service than upgrade the network itself.

There's certainly no hard evidence that this really is the specific reason for any incorrect data from a particular company. However, both Bloomberg and Ars Technica have received multiple reports from readers that the FCC map is showing incorrect area for their location. (Source:

Disputed Definitions

There seem to be two main explanations other than companies intentionally submitting false data. One is that availability information may cover a neighborhood even though the actual availability varies between properties.

Another is that companies may show an area as covered because the physical infrastructure is in place, but not yet have the capacity to serve every property if all homeowners signed up. Some companies argue that although they are working to upgrade capacity, it's fair to list an area as having service, even where that service is technically "pending."

However, the law on reporting specifically says a company can only list an area as covered where it can serve new customers "through routine installation that can be completed not later than 10 business days after the date on which the service request is submitted." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Are you surprised some of the information is incorrect? Should the FCC use sources other than companies themselves to track which homes have existing service? Do you agree with the principle of the broadband subsidy program itself?

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Chuckster's picture

Recently read that in Texas, someone ?? is paying providers an extra $30 per month to subsidize access for over 1 million people per month supposedly for improved access. That is gaming the system...... an extra 30 mill per month in their pockets for providing the same service most everyone else receives in their contract.

This continues despite all the revenue generated by the mandated rural provision tax that is supposed to pay for updated broadband access to rural areas.

To my thinking, one of the biggest system gamers are the cities being paid for every cell phone in their area for the otherwise free overhead air access. Why? I'm not certain, but never heard of radio or TV stations paying to broadcast over that same free airspace.

Review your cell bill, and look at all the added charges...often it's 15-20% of your total bill. I'm from the gov't. I'm here to help you........

buzzallnight's picture

the FCC SHOULD use sources other than companies themselves
to track which homes have existing service!