“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” (Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia”)
Broadband deployment data are critical to spectrum and broadband policy, both in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission. Incomplete or incorrect data about infrastructure can hinder FCC initiatives, such as efforts to promote competition, to implement the National Broadband Map or proposals to direct Universal Service funding to underserved areas. Nevertheless, the FCC has determined that many service providers have not complied with mandatory reporting requirements designed to drive the FCC’s data collection, even as an open FCC proceeding considers possible reforms to the program.
To encourage participation and to improve compliance, earlier today, the FCC hosted a webinar to review the basics of the rules and procedures for filing FCC Form 477 – the FCC’s primary data collection tool for broadband, voice and other services. The filing requirement applies to several categories of service providers, including facilities-based providers of broadband connections to end users, providers of wired or fixed wireless local exchange telephone service, providers of Interconnected VoIP and facilities-based providers of mobile telephony. As a result, the rules apply to companies such as telcos (fixed or mobile), cable operators, satellite companies, Wireless ISPs, managed ISPs, and VoIP providers (including “over-the-top” providers). The filing deadlines for Form 477 occur twice per year: March 1st (providers must file data as of December 31 of the previous year) and September 1st (providers must file data as of June 30 of the same year).
In the webinar, Wireline Competition Bureau Chief Sharon Gillett emphasized two points for service providers. First, the requirement to file Form 477 is mandatory, and providers are expected to comply. Second, data submitted in Form 477 are afforded confidential treatment, meaning that no provider-specific information is shared with outside parties.
The Bureau’s chief data officer Steve Rosenberg described how data collection or Form 477 submission problems often fall into three categories:
- Nonfilers: According to Rosenberg, several hundred providers don’t file with the FCC, so their data aren’t counted.
- Improper certifications: Rosenberg indicated that sometimes outside consultants gather and submit the data, but he said that such certifications may make data more difficult to correct and may raise questions of reliability of the data.
- Repeated mistakes: Rosenberg pointed out that some filers simply file incorrect data, for example, by putting too many subscribers into one census block in a county or build upon incorrect data from prior filings, even after working with FCC staff to correct prior filings.
Yes, the Form 477 instructions are a bit dense, and gathering data at a granular level can be time-consuming for many providers. The key takeaway from the FCC’s webinar is that the FCC is prioritizing education and compliance efforts for broadband data collection – a move that is often a precursor to stepped-up enforcement efforts.