Cellphone companies often boast about how much of the country they cover. But with billions of federal dollars at stake to expand mobile broadband in rural America, state officials and other groups across 37 states say those claims aren’t always true.
The challenge is proving the carriers wrong.
In Vermont, that meant sending out a guy in a gray Toyota Prius to imitate the ubiquitous “can you hear me now?” question as he motored among small towns and dairy farms in search of a signal. Other states took similar steps, and their concerns have caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which has begun investigating the accuracy of the carriers’ claims.
The FCC got on to the question last year after it offered $4.5 billion through its Mobility Fund II reverse auction, meant to advance high-speed mobile broadband service in needy rural areas over the next decade. To determine which areas would be eligible for funding, the FCC required mobile providers to submit data showing where they provide 4G LTE coverage with download speeds of 5 megabits per second.
According to the carriers, several rural states, including Kansas and most of Vermont, New Hampshire and Mississippi, already had high-speed mobile broadband and didn’t need the FCC’s money.
Vermont begged to differ.
“When we first looked at the confidential coverage maps we called the FCC staff and said, ‘These maps are wrong,’” recalled Corey Chase, telecommunications infrastructure specialist with the Vermont Department of Public Service.
“The FCC said, ‘Well, if you don’t think they’re accurate, it would behoove you to do a challenge,’” he recalled. “It puts the onus on us.”
So, the department sent Chase on the road to challenge the carriers’ maps. With six phones in his passenger side seat running tests, and a seventh used as a map, Chase covered the Green Mountain State’s forested and at times rocky terrain to gather the data that would provide a foundation for an accurate statewide mobile broadband map.
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The CPUC has a mobile coverage data collection plan call CalSPEED. More Details HERE.