T-Mobile and AT&T don’t want to drive-test their coverage claims

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AT&T and T-Mobile say it would cost millions to drive test their mobile networks annually.


Angela Lang/CNET

AT&T and T-Mobile are fighting back against a Federal Communications Commission program that could see America’s mobile providers drive test their own networks to double check coverage range. The carriers’ submissions, spotted earlier Thursday by Ars Technica, came in response to the FCC’s request for comment on its suggestions in July of how to verify carriers’ speed and coverage claims.

“We propose requiring mobile service providers to submit on-the-ground test data,” the FCC’s July 2020 proposal says. “The Broadband DATA Act requires the Commission to verify the accuracy and reliability of mobile broadband coverage data that mobile providers submit to the Commission, and we believe that on-the-ground test data from mobile providers could be a critical component of our verification process”

AT&T’s filing, submitted Tuesday this week, argues that it’s impossible for “all carriers to use the same parameters and produce maps that accurately predict their individual network performance.” AT&T also argued against the cost imposed on carriers by requiring them to conduct annual drive testing nationwide to verify their mobile broadband coverage maps.

“AT&T estimates that to drive test just 25% of the square kilometers of its nationwide 4G LTE coverage would cost approximately $45 million each year and that drive testing only 10% of its coverage would still cost as much as $18 million/year,” the filing said. This is “simply too costly,” especially while carriers are focused on a 5G rollout, AT&T said.

Similarly, T-Mobile’s filing published Monday called drive tests “extremely expensive and burdensome.”

“A blanket requirement to perform regular on-the-ground testing will force providers to spend millions of dollars each year on tests, resources that would be better spent investing in our network and deployment in rural America,” T-Mobile said.

The FCC earlier this year said 21 million Americans lack access to broadband — but that this number could be higher in rural areas where coverage maps aren’t as accurate. The FCC’s maps are used to decide who gets a slice of the $4 billion in funding every year for broadband coverage to help close the digital divide.

As a result, the US in March passed a new version of a bill designed to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act requires the FCC to collect more detailed information on where coverage is provided, and to “establish a process to verify the accuracy of such data, and more.”



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