FCC Extends Broadband Data Collection Waiver Amid Industry Debate

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In a recent move, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has chosen to prolong the waiver exempting broadband providers from the requirement of having their broadband data collection (BDC) filings certified by professional engineers. This decision has sparked a mixed reaction within the telecommunications industry.

Initially granted in 2022 and expiring this year, the waiver faced a petition for extension by the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and USTelecom – The Broadband Association in August. The petition argued that strict enforcement of the professional engineer certification would not align with the practicalities of the broadband workforce, potentially impeding both mobile and fixed network deployment.

The FCC’s decision to continue the waiver has been hailed as a “big win for WISPs, especially small providers” by Wireless Internet Service Providers Association spokesperson Mike Wendy. He emphasized the ongoing scarcity of certified professionals in radio frequency engineering and broadband network design, asserting that the shortage could lead to delays in timely BDC reporting.

Operators, mandated to comply with FCC reporting requirements under penalty, find temporary relief in the waiver extension. ACA Connects CEO Grant Spellmeyer applauded the FCC, stating that the waiver allows broadband providers to rely on in-house engineers for certification, reducing unnecessary burdens on smaller providers.

However, not all industry players are unified in their support. NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association expressed reservations, urging the FCC not to waive the professional engineering certification requirement. NTCA Executive Vice President Mike Romano cited concerns about certain broadband coverage claims lacking accuracy, proposing conditions instead of a blanket waiver.

The FCC, in response, imposed three conditions on the renewed waiver. Providers must have BDC submissions certified by an engineering professional as specified in the 2022 waiver, retain specific foundational network information for each submission, and, upon request, promptly provide this information to the Commission.

Despite the waiver extension, Romano acknowledged the FCC’s effort in conditioning the waiver on the retention and submission of additional network information, providing a potential avenue for validating coverage claims in the future.

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