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Starlink, Verizon, and T-Mobile made shaky claims on FCC coverage map

Illustration of a US map with crisscrossing lines representing a broadband network.

Getty Images | Andrey Denisyuk

Multiple Internet service providers have submitted false availability data to the federal government for a map that will be used to determine which parts of the US get access to a $42.45 billion broadband fund. We wrote about Comcast’s false coverage claims last week, and this article will detail false or at least questionable coverage claims from SpaceX’s Starlink division and the wireless home Internet divisions at Verizon and T-Mobile.

Some false claims are easy to prove by looking at the providers’ availability websites. SpaceX claims to serve virtually the whole US on the Federal Communications Commission map but the Starlink website’s map shows the service has a waitlist in huge portions of the country.

We heard from two people who successfully challenged Starlink’s service claims at their homes, one in Harrietta, Michigan, and another in West Chester, Pennsylvania. We verified on the FCC map that, in both cases, these residents’ challenges were upheld because it’s not possible to get Starlink service at their addresses yet. But each challenge only corrects the false data for a single address, and Starlink still claims to serve the surrounding residences on the FCC map.

We contacted SpaceX today and will update this article if we get a response.

Our story about Comcast last week examined false claims in Colorado, and we subsequently heard from a man who challenged Comcast’s claim to offer service at his home in Hanover, Maryland. We confirmed that it’s impossible to order service at the Hanover home on the Comcast website, and the house appears to be just outside Comcast’s actual coverage area. The challenge is still listed as pending on the FCC map.

Verizon unavailable, despite map claim

We also heard from a man named Gabe in Goodrich, Michigan, who found that Verizon claimed to offer fixed wireless service with download speeds of up to 300Mbps at his home. He submitted a challenge to the FCC but Verizon disputed the challenge, insisting that it covers the house.

The FCC map website shows the challenge is still pending. We confirmed today that Verizon doesn’t offer wireless home Internet service at the residence by entering the address into the carrier’s website.

“Verizon Home Internet services are not currently available at your address, but you can be among the first to know if they become available,” the availability checker said, offering the option to sign up for a waiting list. The website offers the same “not currently available” message for 5G and 4G home Internet.

Gabe told us that Verizon has not yet followed up with him on his FCC challenge “even though I’ve reached out to them to try to resolve.”

When contacted by Ars, Verizon said that in some cases, its home Internet service may have been “available at the reporting date but is no longer available to new customers.” Verizon told us it is looking into the specific address in Michigan but that in the carrier’s map submissions, it is “only providing and doing what the FCC asked us to do. In other words, we’re abiding by their rules.”

Unlike wired Internet providers, fixed wireless providers can submit coverage information based on cellular propagation modeling data. But the US law that governs the mapping data says fixed broadband providers, whether wireless or wired, may only claim areas where they can offer service “through routine installation that can be completed not later than 10 business days after the date on which the service request is submitted.”

Verizon capacity problems

A Verizon spokesperson said the FCC “maps are dynamic and continually evolving as we continue to deploy spectrum,” adding:

In some places, there may be capacity issues. While a specific address may have been available four months ago, it may not be available today because our network can not provide optimal service at this moment in time. However, as additional spectrum continues to come online, an address that was open for sale four months ago and is unavailable for new customers today, may have additional capacity a month from now or at some point later in the year. The maps are continually evolving depending on usage and available capacity in a specific area, at a certain point in time.

This response may explain why a house marked as served by Verizon on the FCC map can no longer get service. But it also shows that Verizon doesn’t have enough network capacity to serve all the homes it claimed on the FCC map, and that residents who have the option of buying Verizon home service today might find it unavailable if they wait until tomorrow or next week.

Wireless industry group CTIA told Ars that service locations in fixed wireless network areas “are highly dynamic and evolve on a daily basis. The FCC’s current maps are based on data from June 2022 and providers are currently working on providing the FCC with updates from December of last year.”

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