An Ohio-based ISP admits it lied to the FCC about fiber service area to nullify competitor expansion grants

Shady: We are all suspicious of cell phone and internet coverage maps. Every provider claims better coverage, which is impossible, so there are good reasons not to trust any of them. But cheating on their coverage limits is about more than just getting your business. Some ISPs make unsubstantiated claims against competing service provider regions to prevent them from receiving grants to expand and improve local broadband.

Ohio’s ISP Jefferson County Cable (JCC) recently inadvertently posed as a FCC claim for coverage in an area it did not serve. It all started when Ryan Grewell, CEO of local competing provider Smart Way Communications, received a phone call from some of his clients telling him that the updated version of the FCC broadband card listed their addresses as having fiber internet offered by JCC.

Smart Way serves these addresses, not JCC, which is why Grewell filed several complaints with the FCC. At least one of the submissions went back to JCC Executive Director Bob Loveridge. Thinking he was answering a resident at the disputed address, Loveridge emailed Grewell admitting that his company had lied to prevent its competitors from getting a grant to develop fiber in the area. Gruell general communication with Ars Technica.

“You disputed that we don’t have service in your home, and today we really don’t,” the Jan. 9 email said. “With our huge investment in upgrading our service to provide xgpon [10-Gigabit-capable passive optical network]we reported to BDC [Broadband Data Collection] that we have service in your home so that they do not allocate extra. [sic] money to expand broadband [the] the pinnacle of our private investment in our factory.”

Gruell didn’t know whether to be angry or amused.

“That cable company just said the quiet part out loud,” he told Ars over the phone. “[It’s] a blatant attempt to prevent anyone else from getting funding in the area they intend to serve.”

As far as I can tell, Jefferson County Cable has not announced plans to build fiber in the area. Because the FCC’s multibillion-dollar expansion program grants are made available where needed, JCC had to admit to the panel that it had made a mistake and submit a correction.

Ars confirms that the coverage map has indeed been updated. Unfortunately, it excludes only one address in the contested area along Route 43. Houses in the neighborhood and on the same street still have JCC-provided fiber.

In addition, the problem is even more widespread than one city in Ohio. Officials in Nevada found that their state’s FCC map had at least 20,000 errors. Similarly, Vermont reported over 60,000 people. Ars Technica notes that the FCC card currently has over a million calls across the country.

If claims are reviewed and answered one at a time, who knows how long it will take to fully fix the card? Meanwhile, until things get right, entire regions that qualify for federal grants to help expand and improve local infrastructure are being held hostage by deceitful ISPs.

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