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FCC Implements New Processes for Collecting Broadband Deployment Data; Overhauls Form 477

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) Thursday adopted a Report and Order and Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Order & NPRM”) aimed at improving the accuracy of broadband data it currently collects biannually via the Form 477.  The actions summarized herein are the results of a voluminous rulemaking proceeding that the FCC commenced after determining that its current broadband data collection methodology is outdated.

The crux of the Order is threefold:  (1) establishment of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection (“DODC”) requiring fixed service suppliers to provide geospatial broadband coverage maps pinpointing exactly where they provide service; (2) allowing public input on the accuracy of the providers’ geospatial maps; and (3) revising the FCC Form 477 to eliminate certain reporting requirements the FCC has deemed outdated, as well as adding new reporting requirements.

In the NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on:  (1) additional technical standards to which fixed service suppliers must adhere in submitting DODC information; (2) collection of more coverage data from mobile wireless voice and broadband suppliers for their transition to DODC; and (3) discontinuation of the Form 477 following full implementation of the DODC.

A copy of the draft Order & NPRM is here.  The official document will be released shortly.  We will provide an update when that occurs, as well as listing the corresponding effective dates and deadlines for compliance and comments on the NPRM when available.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection

The FCC’s most substantial data reporting change is the creation of the DODC, which will require all fixed service providers to submit broadband coverage polygon-based maps showing the specific areas where their broadband-capable networks actually exist and make fixed broadband service available to end-user locations. For DODC purposes, the term “fixed service providers” refers to facilities-based wireline providers (including ILECS, CLECS and cable TV system operators), fixed terrestrial wireless providers, and satellite carriers providing fixed broadband connections to end-users.

The DODC filings will be accomplished via a special portal that will be developed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”), which will oversee the new filing processes.  Until this portal is developed, and other filing processes are accomplished, the current Form 477 (amended as discussed below) will remain in effect.

The FCC will require the following information to be included in DODC filings:

  • Maximum download and upload speeds actually made available in each area, the technology used to provide the service, and differentiation between residential-only, business-only, and combination broadband services.
  • Broadband coverage polygon map for each combination of download and upload speeds, and technology. Separate polygon maps must be filed where providers offer different maximum speeds, even if using the same network.
  • The FCC defines “available service” in areas wherein the provider has a current broadband connection or could provide same within ten days of customer request “without an extraordinary commitment of resources or construction costs exceeding an ordinary service activation fee.” This extends to every end-user location contained in the filed polygon maps. This definition must be followed closely by all filers.   

DODC will take effect after the FCC issues an order delineating the exact specifications of the polygon maps and related administrative matters, and USAC issues a notice announcing the availability of the new portal and reporting deadlines.  Fixed service providers are required to file initial service availability reports within six months of the USAC notice.  Providers must also file updates within six months of completing any broadband deployments or acquiring facilities that affect the data submitted in their original DODC filing.  Errors in filings must also be promptly reported via revised filings. Additionally, filers must certify on or before June 30 each year that, as of December 31 the previous year the service availability data continues to be accurate.  The FCC is currently determining whether smaller providers (those with less than 250 subscribers and are not Eligible Telecommunications Carriers for Universal Service purposes) should be permitted more time to file their initial reports.  Form 477 filings will also be required by fixed service providers, until that process is abolished (as discussed in the NPRM).

“Crowdsourcing” of Polygon Maps

The new DODC filing portal will accept public feedback on the accuracy of the polygon maps filed by fixed service providers.  Governmental entities, including state, local and Tribal governments, as well as members of the public, will have the ability to review and dispute the maps.  USAC will make this “crowdsourcing” information public, unless information that the FCC regards as “confidential” is included, which requires that a request for confidentiality be included with the initial filing.  The specifics of this process, including how fixed service providers should respond regarding the crowdsourcing of its maps, are also subjects of the NPRM. 

In addition to the crowdsourcing, DODC filings will also be subject to review by the FCC.  USAC will submit a plan for the FCC to independently verify the accuracy of broadband coverage of all polygon maps submitted to USAC.

Form 477 Revisions

In the NPRM, the FCC solicits comments on the transition of collection of mobile broadband-capable network deployment data to the same DODC requirements as fixed service providers.  Once that process is complete, the FCC proposes to “sunset” the Form 477 requirements.  In the interim, the FCC will continue to require the biannual filings of same by all the entities that are currently subject to the reporting requirements, albeit with some revised reporting requirements and processes for all Form 477 filings going forward:

  • Providers’ minimum advertised or expected speed data for mobile broadband services will no longer be eligible for confidentiality.
  • Provider-specific coverage data will be made publically available; filers will no longer be permitted to submit request for confidentiality regarding this data. The FCC will publish nationwide, provider-specific coverage maps, including minimum advertised or public speed data.
  • Mobile facilities-based providers will no longer be required to submit separate coverage maps depicting their broadband coverage areas for each transmission technology and each frequency band.
  • Providers must report 5G technology deployments as part of their Form 477 filings. This means that filers will need to become familiar with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project’s (“3GPP”) Release 15 and be prepared to submit 5G deployment data that meets the specifications of same, and any subsequent reports adopted by the FCC for this purpose.
  • The nine mobile broadband technology codes are eliminated, and replaced with four more comprehensive codes: (1) 5G-NR (New Radio); (2) LTE; (3) CDMA-based; and (4) GSM-based.
  • The requirement that mobile voice data be submitted by spectrum band is eliminated.
  • Providers are required to submit broadband and voice subscriber data at the census-tract level, based on the subscriber’s place of primary uses.
  • Census-tract level mobile retail availability data will no longer be collected. This affects facilities-based mobile broadband providers which had to submit a list of census tracts in which they advertise their services and in which the services are available to actual and potential subscribers.
  • Fixed service providers offering business/enterprise/government services are no longer required to report the maximum downstream and upstream contractual of guaranteed data throughput rate available in each reported census block.   

Conclusion

As summarized herein, the FCC’s new broadband data collection requirements will be sweeping and complex.  As the FCC is now focusing closely on broadband deployment, it is critical that all affected providers be aware of, and comply with the new obligations.  The FCC will subject violators to steep fines and other sanctions.

Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC has experienced attorneys that can answer any questions you may have regarding these changes, and help guide you through the labyrinth of new reporting requirements.  For further information, please contact Michael P. Donahue, Esq., mpd@commlawgroup.com or (703) 714-1319.

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