Explaining that you “can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) Chairman Pai’s recent proposal to revise the Commission’s Form 477 broadband and voice data collection requirements reflects the agency’s attempt to align the data collected with the “customer experience” and increase the granularity of data collected. Formally adopted by the full Commission during its August 3rd meeting, the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) seeks comment on the proposed changes to the Form 477 data collection requirements discussed below.

Currently, fixed wireline, fixed wireless and mobile broadband, and voice service providers are required to report certain deployment and subscription information on the Form 477. Adoption of this FNPRM marks the Commission’s intent to modify the data collected in order to gather more accurate and granular information, expand the amount of data that is publicly disclosed, and (in a few cases) reduce the burdens on providers. While some of the proposed changes may reduce the burdens on fixed and mobile providers, other changes may increase burdens by requiring the reporting of new and more granular data and by making certain data public that is currently treated as confidential. Finally, the proposal also previews the Commission’s interest in measuring subscribership related to emerging applications, such as IoT-enabled services, and the potential for new wireless services leveraging numerous unlicensed facilities, such as Wi-Fi routers. Deadlines for Opening Comments and Reply Comments will be finalized when the FNPRM is published in the Federal Register.

FIXED BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT

Expanding the Collection of “Service Availability” Data

Currently, fixed broadband providers (which includes both fixed wireline and fixed wireless providers) report all census blocks where broadband connections are made “available” and the last-mile technologies used, which helps the Commission identify where a provider does, or could, provide service. However, according to the Commission, the meaning of “availability” in each listed census block can be “multifaceted.” For example, in a particular block, a provider may, or may not, have subscribers and may, or may not, be able to take on additional subscribers.

To resolve this issue, the Commission asks whether it should “require fixed broadband providers to indicate whether total customers served on a particular technology could be increased in each census block listed when they report deployment data.” To answer that question the Commission is considering whether to require providers to identify three categories of service areas: (1) areas where there are both existing customers served by a particular last-mile technology, and the total number of customers using that technology can, and would, be readily increased within a standard interval upon request; (2) areas with existing customers but no net-additional customers using that technology will be accommodated; and (3) areas where there are no existing customers for a particular technology but new customers will be added within a standard interval upon request. The Commission solicits comment on the specific costs and burdens associated with this reporting requirement.

Increasing the Granularity of Collected Data

In certain contexts, such as to administer the Universal Service Fund, the Commission currently collects more granular broadband deployment data than what is collected for Form 477 purposes. Finding this granular data to be “extremely useful in understanding issues surrounding fixed broadband deployment” the Commission seeks comment on whether:

  • to give fixed broadband providers the option to report deployment data by filing geospatial data showing coverage areas (i.e., polygons of coverage filed via shapefiles or “rasters”), in lieu of reporting coverage data via a list of census blocks;
  • to collect data at a sub-census block level (e.g., street address), and whether providers should be required to report the service address for every housing unit at which service is available; or
  • as an alternative to sub-census block reporting, to require providers to geocode all addresses at which service is available, collect data about what street segments providers cover, or require providers to identify the blocks that they can “fully serve.”

Eliminating the Collection of Business, Enterprise, and Government Services

The Commission currently requires providers of broadband services to business and enterprise customers report the maximum downstream/upstream speeds (or committed information rate (CIR)) available in each census block. Finding that this data does not provide useful insights, the Commission proposes to discontinue the collection of this data and seeks comment on the best way to collect data reflecting speeds offered to business and government customers.

MOBILE BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT

Collecting “On-The-Ground” (Speed Test) Data

In order to understand how theoretical data relates to consumer experience, the Commission also seeks comment on whether it should collect “on-the-ground” data, including whether to collect speed test data aggregated up to a certain geographic level. The Commission asks whether this requirement would be unduly burdensome or whether it is already generated in the ordinary course of business.

Separate Reporting for New Technology

The Commission currently does not require reporting data for new wireless technologies, like 5G. Therefore, it asks whether it should require separate reporting for 5G mobile broadband deployment, and how its data collection should consider subscribership for purposes of IoT applications. The Commission also asks whether Form 477 should track deployment of Wi-Fi facilities “when they are offered to consumers in conjunction with resold mobile service.” Additionally, the Commission is considering whether it should modify Form 477 to include satellite broadband data.

The Commission also seeks comment on whether:

  • the publication of the minimum advertised speed and a more meaningful disclosure of mobile broadband providers’ reporting methodologies would better reflect consumer experience;
  • minimum mobile broadband advertised or expected speeds should be publicly available;
  • to require the use of standardized predictive propagation models to prepare Form 477 mobile broadband deployment filings;
  • to eliminate the requirement for mobile voice providers to submit voice coverage data by technology and spectrum band;
  • to require mobile broadband and voice providers to aggregate subscribership data to the census-tract level based on subscribers’ billing addresses and whether billing addresses or customer place of primary use should be used to assign mobile broadband and voice subscribers to a census tract.

CONFIDENTIAL TREATMENT OF DATA & PROCEDURAL MATTERS

One silver lining in this proposal is the Commission’s consideration of whether to shift from semi-annual to annual collection for all filers, or for certain filers (such as smaller filers), or for certain parts of the form. On the other hand, the Commission also proposes to make more collected data publicly available, including whether:

  • to make public the number of fixed broadband subscriber counts at each reported speed “on a national level” (without specifically identifying the filers submitting the information);
  • to make minimum advertised or expected speed data for mobile broadband services public;
  • some of propagation model parameters such as terrain resolution, signal strength and the loading factor, if submitted with Form 477 filings, should be publicly available;
  • certain types of disaggregated subscriber data should be made public after a certain period of time has passed; and
  • seeks comment on making the Form 477 data available to the public and stakeholders through enhancement to the National Broadband Map, or through the creation of other mapping assets.