Mobile data coverage is better than it was in years past as we reach the end of the LTE era, but we’ve all suspected from time to time that carriers aren’t being entirely truthful. Now, there’s proof, at least according to the FCC. After testing LTE data across the rural US, the agency has concluded that Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular were lying about their coverage about 40 percent of the time. If you were hoping carriers would face some consequences for this, prepare to be disappointed.
The FCC receives numerous complaints about coverage, but the volume of complaints about rural coverage from the aforementioned carriers spurred the agency to investigate. FCC staff ended up driving more than 10,000 miles around rural America with Galaxy S9 smartphones running continuous speed tests. They also conducted stationary speed tests at various locations in search of the required minimum 5Mbps download speeds.
According to the report, the investigators were only able to get the required speeds 62.3 percent of the time. T-Mobile hit the mark in 63.2 percent of tests, and Verizon was slightly higher at 64.3 percent. US Cellular, on the other hand, only hit 5Mbps 45 percent of the time. There was no LTE signal available in 38 percent of test locations for US Cellular. T-Mobile had dead spots covering 21.3 percent of the drive, and Verizon had no bars 16.2 percent of the drive. Even in stationary tests, about half of all tests failed to reach the required speeds.
FCC staff have come up with several recommendations to fix this situation. They suggest a permanent team that could roam the country to evaluate data coverage continuously. The team also says carriers should be punished in some fashion for publishing misleading coverage maps but offered no specifics. Verizon and US Cellular blamed the FCC’s system for submitting coverage data, which they say is inaccurate and leads to overstating coverage maps.
The only actual outcome of this analysis is that FCC chairman Ajit Pai has canceled a planned $4.5 billion government program to subsidize the deployment of rural 4G. In its place, Pai wants to create a $9 billion fund to help roll out faster 5G service in rural areas. Yes, carriers could get more government subsidies after this screw-up. Well played, FCC.
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