Verizon fights back against claims that it ‘grossly overstated’ its rural coverage

Verizon issued a fairly scathing response to claims that it “grossly overstated” its nationwide 4G LTE coverage, particularly in rural areas.

“In a recent letter, consultants for the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) assert that Verizon’s Mobility Fund coverage map overstates Verizon’s coverage in the Oklahoma Panhandle,” Verizon wrote in a recent FCC filing. “The RWA consultants’ assertion is unfounded. The Verizon Mobility Fund coverage map complies in all respects with the Commission’s mapping specifications and with industry best practices for propagation modeling.”

Verizon also called into question the motives of the consultants who made the initial claims in July. As noted by Wireless Estimator and others, a coalition including 4G Unwired, Monte R. Lee and Company, Palmetto Engineering & Consulting, and CT&T, a PEC company, blasted Verizon’s coverage in rural areas. The coalition in part cited data from drive tests conducted by Panhandle Telecommunication Systems, an Oklahoma rural wireless carrier.

“Like many RWA members, PTSI is a ‘subsidized carrier,’ i.e., a carrier that receives support from the Commission’s legacy universal service program. PTSI receives $184,000 per month from the legacy universal service program, or about $2.2 million per year,” Verizon wrote in its filing. “In total, PTSI has received almost $40 million in universal service support since it became an eligible telecommunications carrier in 2004. Because Verizon’s Mobility Fund coverage map shows that Verizon (an unsubsidized carrier) covers much of PTSI’s territory, PTSI faces the prospect of losing universal service support in many areas. Under the Mobility Fund rules, areas served by an unsubsidized carrier will not be eligible for the Mobility Fund auction and PTSI will lose its legacy support in those areas after a two-year phase out.”

In its initial letter to the FCC in July discussing Verizon’s rural coverage, the coalition wrote that it “has determined that Verizon’s claimed 4G LTE coverage is grossly overstated and not supported by rational RF engineering practices. We note that RWA has expressed serious concerns regarding overstated unsubsidized 4G LTE coverage as it relates to eligibility for Mobility Fund Phase II (MFII) funding. CCA, too, has expressed concerns regarding the credibility of claimed 4G LTE coverage.”

Partly at issue is government funding used by rural wireless carriers to build out networks in rural areas. Those rural carriers only get government funds where wireless coverage isn’t good. Thus, the FCC must rely on maps of coverage areas, and those maps sit at the center of the debate.

The issue involves millions of dollars: The FCC voted unanimously earlier this year to provide $435 million a year for a decade to expand and maintain LTE coverage across rural America and in tribal lands.