FCC may be investigating T-Mobile and Verizon for overstating their coverage

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T-Mobile may be under investigation by the FCC.

The FCC recently announced that it’s launched an investigation “into whether one or more major carriers violated the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) reverse auction’s mapping rules and submitted incorrect coverage maps.” While the FCC hasn’t named the carriers it’s investigating, a filing from the Rural Wireless Association suggests that they could be T-Mobile and Verizon.

The RWA says that several of its members completed MF-II Challenge Process speed tests and submitted their results ahead of the November 26, 2018 deadline. The results of the speed tests caused the RWA to have concerns that T-Mobile and Verizon may have overstated their coverage. “The vast majority of test points showed non-qualifying 4G LTE coverage — or no 4G LTE coverage at all,” the RWA said in its filing to the FCC.

Later on in its filing, the RWA says that its members found that in many areas, T-Mobile projected its future 4G LTE coverage and reported that coverage to the FCC ahead of or by the January 4, 2018 deadline rather than the coverage it had in place by that deadline. Additionally, in many areas where T-Mobile reported coverage, cell sites that were supposed to be providing that coverage were not in operation. And in some areas where T-Mobile claimed it had coverage, it was found to be using satellite backhaul, which the RWA says make hitting speeds of 5Mbps down “impossible”.

RWA goes on to point out that Panhandle Telecommunication Systems, Inc. drove 124,421 miles and conducted 3,605,517 speed tests. Of that total, 3,232,612 (89.7 percent) tested below 5Mbps or didn’t register 4G LTE service at all. Of the total Verizon test points, 83.9 percent tested below 5Mbps or didn’t register 4G LTE service at all.

When asked about these claims, T-Mobile did not respond, and Verizon told FierceWireless, “We are aware of the FCC’s announcement and will help the Commission better understand Verizon coverage if asked to do so.”

The Mobility Fund Phase II program is meant to give up to $4.53 billion in government support to carriers so that they’ll deploy service in rural areas. In order to do so, the FCC must first figure out which parts of the country need wireless coverage. That’s why it’s important for the carriers to accurately report the coverage that they have, so that the FCC can dole out cash appropriately and help get the areas without cell coverage the service that’ll get them connected. It’s unclear what will happen next in this matter, but it’ll be interesting to see what steps the FCC take if it finds that T-Mo and Verizon did violate the MF-II rules. Stay tuned.

Via: FierceWireless
Sources: FCC (1), (2)

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  • Glenn Gore

    All the carriers are guilty of doing this, some intentionally and some unintentionally, just painting their maps a solid color without regard for things that might impede their signal propagation such as hills, valleys, mountains, forests, buildings, and the like. Potential customers see gaps and gradations in color on carrier maps and use those factors in deciding which carrier to give their hard-earned money to when making a buying decision, so those maps should be as accurate as possible. When this plays out it might make the carrier maps look a lot less perfect but that will be a good thing for consumers and might just cause the carriers to add more sites and use their spectrum to better serve their customers and lure in future customers.

    • SirStephenH

      T-Mobile actually does take obstacles into account. Makes for some funky looking maps sometimes.

  • pda96

    It’s about time.

  • Jason Caprio

    I have extensive personal experience traveling far and wide using both Verizon and T-Mobile through many states, urban and rural. I can safely say that Verizon’s coverage maps are reasonably accurate, especially in rural areas. 99% of the time if Verizon says there is coverage, then I have a decent usable signal. T-Mobile on the other hand is far more guilty of exaggerating coverage in rural areas than Verizon is. I have lost count of times on T-Mobile where I was in an area that was “painted magenta” on their coverage map, only to have either no signal, an “Emergency Calls Only” signal, or EDGE.

    I know all carriers are guilty of some form of coverage map exaggerating, but T-Mobile is by far MUCH worse with it than Verizon is.

    • Sharti24

      Verizon has the worst coverage map imo. At least with Sprint and Tmobile you can zoom in and see where the towers are approximately located. Even With Att you can zoom in and see where There is LTE.

      • Jason Caprio

        I know what you mean. Their coverage map doesn’t list signal strength like T-Mobile’s does, however I do not recall a time where I’ve been in a rural area where Verizon claimed coverage, and did not have a signal. T-Mobile on the other hand, if their zoomed in coverage says “fair”, it really means you will have 2G or no signal at all.

  • JStatt

    I’m a big fan of T-Mobile, but this was badly needed. Their coverage map is just a flat out lie. It says LTE speeds of 50-150mbps in my neighrbhood, and in reality you get virtually no coverage. Just a flat out lie.

  • mikeZo6

    FCC stop Tmobile been telling Tmobile for years that coverage maps are a lie ! sent hundreds of speed test directly to John CEO and their Executive Office 15 years with Tmo always says “coverage map says excellent 4GLTE and we DO NOT ” and they ALWAYS PROMISE TO FIX BUT NEVER DO ! proof is in the tests

  • Justin Feld

    Been with Tmobile for years and this is one of my main complaints is when checking coverage for somewhere I am travelling. if it says fair without a good or excellent nearby I pretty much have decided that I wont have coverage. Northern Michigan is one of the worsts. You can drive 15 miles without coverage while the map states you should have coverage the entire time. They need to not only improve their coverage in these spots but they also need to get their maps in order and make them more accurate as they are far from accurate currently

    • J.J.

      Southern Michigan coverage is not great either. I thought Michigan was blanketed in 700 but a recent trip proved false

      • Acdc1a

        In Michigan T-Mobile has the 700 they bought at auction and in addition they have the old omnipoint and Metro (old AT&T Wireless) spectrum most of which is deployed. They are also rolling out 600 in the UP. Michigan is VERY well covered.

        • Justin Feld

          Up north is NOT well covered. Im up several times a year and there is still holes in the coverage. My dad lives in houghton lake and after north of standish ( where 700mhz spectrum that was originally deployed a couple years ago back when tmobile did not exist up north) I-75 suffers from several long streches of no service/at&t roaming even though the map shows native with no holes in coverage. Again, downstate is great but their maps are very inaccurate up north. And its a pain when my phone starts roaming because it doesnt switch back to tmobile on its own. Either requires a manual network select, airplane mode, or phone reset, and every 700mhz phone i have had (3 of them) all suffer from that issue. So much work is still needed up state as tmobile is clearly vastly overestimating 700mhz range

        • J.J.

          That’s what i thought too, but was there roaming around and had issues

        • J.J.

          Except Southwest which is currently a mess!

      • Justin Feld

        I dont have any issue really in southern… at least south eastern michigan. but once i pass standish (midway through the state) then its hit and miss and the maps arent even close. But i live by ann arbor and havent really had any issues anywhere near by but thats just me personally. But going up north is sometimes quite a pain. Every phone I have still likes to go into at&t roaming and I have to manually select tmobile otherwise it wants to stick to roaming. and between standish and west branch is riddled with huge swaths of coverage issues

        • J.J.

          I was recently in st Joe area (sw) and it was terrible!

      • SirStephenH

        T-Mobile doesn’t own band 12 (700MHz) licenses covering southwestern Michigan.

        • J.J.

          I saw on the map this sliver uncovered which dips down into northern Indiana where i live. Get that damn channel moved and give me 700 lol

    • taxandspend

      All T-Mobile really needs to do is delete the “fair” coverage from their maps, and make the zoomed out view reflect that. I think they’d be pretty accurate after doing that.

      • Justin Feld

        taxandspend: exactly. Fair coverage is completely inaccurate and misleading. I agree 100% with you. The Good and Excellent on the map is really the most accurate depiction of actual coverage. Basically anything Good or Excellent your in good shape. Fair… well you may or may not have coverage, more often than not fair means your s.o.l. But they want to give the impression they have more coverage which i understand. I am a happy tmobile customer have been for years but that is the kind of stuff that leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths, especially new customer that feel like they have been mislead and aren’t getting coverage where they thought they would. My coverage is great in the vast majority of places I go, my speeds are incredible averaging 200-250 mbps at my house and having the one plus international with unlimited high speed hotspot is great because I canceled my home internet as I have no need for it now. But for someone thats a new customer thats not accustomed to having the experience that I have with them would probably very angry and would not have anything good to say at all

      • SirStephenH

        The problem is they often do have “coverage” in those areas. Often not usable, not accessible from every phone, or not available at all times, but coverage nonetheless. To do this on their own would put them at an enormous disadvantage to other carriers who I guarantee would continue showing barely available or usable coverage.

        What needs to happen is the FCC needs to step in and create guidelines for all carriers to follow. Like that’s going to happen with this FCC though…

  • J.J.

    Maybe T-Mobiles map has always been a projection of 2 years in the future!! Lol

  • Pak T

    Wait a minute, you mean wireless companies are inflating & overstating their services in their advertisements? I thought they each had THEE best speeds and coverage?

    Shocking, truly shocky! {eyeroll}

    • SirStephenH

      The speed and coverage claims are based on third party and crowdsourced testing which have nothing to do with the carriers themselves.

      This whole thing is on the actual areas the carriers claim to cover, not third party testing of overall speed and coverage.

  • FryChickenIsha

    As a customer of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile I can honestly say they’ve all lied about their speed and coverage. Their online maps are deceiving people, selling lies. There’s no perfect carrier. I have my business line with Verizon so I mostly use it for calls which is great. AT&T for my data usage, even on their “4G” signal. T-Mobile for my international travel. No one has beaten them in that category yet. All carriers have their own perks. I can’t talk about Sprint, never had it, probably never will. I’m sure Sprint is the only one that lies the most.

  • GinaDee

    I left AT&T a year ago. I remember seeing large swaths of solid orange coverage in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah yet when you actually would get to said location there would be absolutely no service; not even roaming.

    I’ve actually found T-Mobile’s maps a bit more honest especially if you zoom in.

    However they all do overstate their coverage. I think in the spirit of transparency and honesty they should all be made to provide realistic street by street coverage maps that honestly state projected data throughput. I know this would be hard to do but if done right and updated regularly customers can make honest decisions about which carrier to choose from without prejudice.

    • KOLIO

      My guess is keeping the coverage maps updated & accurate is just as easy as it is for the carriers to stretch the truth on ’em.

      It’s good that they’re being called out on it,but,w/o any meaningful penalties,it’ll be business as usual,they’ll keep stretching the truth on the actual coverage/speeds.

  • Sharti24

    T-mobile should show us the same map that they use when theyre looking up cover on their computer. Its a green map and shows where towers are located and what frequency they broadcast. I think the system the use is called grand station.

    • Steven

      yeah, I’d love to know locations of towers, which ones are owned, which ones are contracted, what their footprint is, etc..

      • Sharti24

        You can. Just go to the store and ask them to pull up the coverage map in their system called Grandstation. (That shows you were towers are located) I’ve done it mulitple times. It shows you what towers are being worked on too. (modernization)

        • Steven

          Cool, but that’s not exactly efficient. What I’m driving at is having the ability to look at it as easily as we look at the current marketing map on the T-Mobile website. It’d be great to not have to go to the store every time I get curious about coverage expansions in my area. Not every one has a couple hours to kill to drive to a store, wait in line, deal with a store rep, attempt to be sold on more stuff, all for a momentary curiosity I should be able to satisfy from my couch.

        • Sharti24

          I dont think they want to disclose tower locations that easy due to security purposes. Vandalism is probably the reason

        • Steven

          I literally was just agreeing with you earlier, and now you are saying the opposite. What is going on here?

  • SirStephenH

    I hardly think that that Verizon and T-Mobile are the only ones.

    • Steven

      Agreed, it was to be at least all 4 big boys. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in areas with people who don’t have good service when they should on multiple carriers. Hate that T-Mobile is potentially one of the guilty, but hopefully it creates more honest coverage maps, and therefore a better gauge of the improvements being made.

  • noh1bvisas

    TMO wouldn’t do that, would they?

  • JG

    There are a couple little burgs near me T-Mobile’s map says should have good LTE coverage but I have no signal at all.

    I wasn’t really expecting to get anything. Middle of no where, town is probably big enough you’d only need a single WiFi router in the Post Office to get the entire town covered.

    But it’d still be nice to have some coverage. Especially since along with telling me I should have good coverage, there’s even a “Verified by an actual customer” tag right on Main Street….