Verizon says FCC should avoid increasing broadband reporting requirements

Verizon sign

Verizon says that the FCC should not force wireline broadband operators to develop reports of availability under the census-block level because such requirements would be challenging to support.

At issue is the FCC's Form 477 data collection program. This program requires broadband internet service providers (ISPs) to identify the census blocks in which they provide residential or business internet service and the maximum speeds offered in each block. Additionally, ISPs are also supposed to identify the census blocks that are near enough to their networks that they could provide service within a reasonable timeframe.

The FCC uses this data to better understand how broadband deployments are progressing, identify geographical areas that would benefit from government funding and determine whether regulatory changes or new rules are needed to spur deployment and competition.

In an FCC filing (PDF), Verizon said that “such proposals would impose enormous costs on fixed broadband providers without providing any real benefit to the Commission or the public.”

Verizon cites the FCC’s 2013 decision to decline a proposal to collect wireline broadband deployment data at a more granular level than “the census block because the added complexity and burden are unlikely to provide a significant insight into how many residences and businesses lack access to service.”

RELATED: FCC revisits methods to increase broadband competition in multitenant buildings

At that time, the FCC found that broadband providers would have to shoulder what it said was a “significantly higher burden” if it raised the requirement from reporting 6.2 million populated census blocks to 118.1 million households, 133.3 million housing units, and millions of business locations.

Like the 2013 decision, Verizon says that the FCC should reject any proposals that would require wireline broadband providers to provide deployment data below the census-block level.

Verizon said that the complexity and burdens “that the Commission identified in 2013 are still present in 2017.”

The reporting process would be even more challenging for rural-facing service providers which might not have address-level availability data. Further, service providers that have website tools to enable subscribers or potential subscribers to check whether broadband is likely available at their location may not be able to compile that data into one single dataset, or coordinate approaches between providers.

Predictions related to broadband availability made available on a service provider’s website often depend on multiple different computer systems and databases such as customer databases, fiber facilities databases, DSL facilities databases, and numerous assumptions that Verizon says “may, in any particular case, prove imprecise.”

Unsurprisingly, USTelecom, which is led by AT&T, Verizon, and other major telcos, echoed a similar tone.

USTelecom said that the FCC "should not seek to collect broadband deployment data that is more granular than at the census block level, because such a change would be unduly burdensome to providers and would not provide the Commission with better data on broadband deployment.

Verizon said the best possible course would be to maintain the current Form 477 rules.

“Rather than seek additional detail on availability of fixed broadband technologies, the Commission should keep its existing specifications for Form 477’s fixed broadband requests,” Verizon said. “The Commission’s proposal to obtain information specifying one of three categories of service availability for each census block would dramatically increase the volume of data required—and the associated collection and reporting burdens on providers—but would not meaningfully serve any identified purpose.”

The telco’s plea will likely get the support of current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has championed efforts to reduce requirements ISPs should have to follow.

Pai told attendees at a speech delivered in Ohio last September that "[e]very dollar spent complying with unnecessary regulations is a dollar that could have been better spent deploying next-generation technologies."

Getting accurate broadband availability data is a key issue for the FCC and consumers trying to figure out if they can get service or not. By not having accurate data on hand, broadband providers have sometimes mistakenly told consumers that broadband is available at a new home when it is not, for example.