Nex-Tech Questions BDC Bulk Mobile Challenge Process

Randy Sukow

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Wireless voice and data provider and NRTC member Nex-Tech Wireless in Kansas recently documented the results of mobile broadband trials in its service areas, finding failure rates (throughputs often falling below 5/1 Mbps) ranging from 37 to 88 percent. Since January 2023, the company has been attempting to file bulk challenges to the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program through an online portal to correct the record, but the FCC has been slow to consider changes.

Nex-Tech CEO and General Manager Jimmy Todd is chairman of the NRTC board of directors.

“For Nex-Tech Wireless, the process was extraordinarily frustrating and could not be characterized to be user-friendly, as required by the Broadband DATA Act,” said Counsel David LaFuria in an ex parte letter to the Commission. “The fact that no other party has succeeded in submitting a bulk challenge is evidence that the challenge process is broken.”

Nex-Tech says that it “used state of the art testing equipment, along with the Ookla speed test app as a backup” and spent thousands of hours over 11,000 road miles, according to the letter. That investment has so far yielded little.

Most recently, Nex-Tech tested connectivity of 5G services in Barton County, KS (see graphic above) on March 29. A national carrier operating in that area claimed extensive 5G availability in the area. The trial instead found “a very small area of qualifying 5G service at or above 7/1 Mbps. The rest of the test failed to register 7/1 Mbps with a 5G signal,” Nex-Tech said.

In 2020, the FCC adopted a plan for a $9 billion 5G Fund reverse auction to support projects expanding wireless broadband coverage. However, it delayed implementation pending development of the mobile connectivity portion of the National Broadband Map. Last fall, the Commission signaled that it was ready to go forward with the 5G Fund auction. But difficulties in filing bulk challenges calls the Commission’s readiness into question.

Nex-Tech says that it plans to participate in the 5G Fund auction, but with current FCC connectivity data “neither Nex-Tech Wireless nor any other carrier can participate in the auction and access support in any area shown to be served with at least 7/1 Mbps service using 5G technology,” it said.

Other organizations have also called for improvements to the bulk challenge process for both the mobile and landline availability maps. The FCC accepted comments on the issue earlier this year.

Accurate Broadband Data Alliance (ABDA), a coalition of 51 ISPs mostly operated by rural telephone companies, claims that some carriers purposely overstate the availability they provide in their BDC reports. The FCC has caught and fined entities for making false reports in a few instances. “Bad actors can make erroneous broadband claims covering tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of locations. In these instances, it is not practical nor possible to subscribe at each location, so an effective ‘bulk’ challenge process is necessary,” ABDA said in its comments.

“NTCA members’ experience from participating in the bulk availability challenges is that the current process and BDC challenge codes are not well calibrated to highlight and correct wide-ranging and far-reaching overstatements of coverage, especially in the case of certain technologies,” NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association said. It also recommended that the FCC improve communications with challengers to update the status of past challenges.

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