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Sen. Lankford: There Should Be Consequences for False Broadband Data

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) asked about the FCC's Mobility Fund Phase II Universal Service Fund subsidy maps--based on carrier-supplied data--that were proven to be wrong. 

At a Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government oversight hearing on FCC spectrum auctions, he asked what consequences were falling on those who had put out "false maps and false information" to the FCC and to Congress. 

AT&T, for example, told the FCC back in April that thousands of census blocks the company had previously told the commission were getting high-speed broadband from the company at 25/3 Mbps weren't getting that high-speed broadband after all. It said the issue was a third party's geocoding software.

The FCC is holding an auction for billions in subsidies for rural broadband buildouts where data shows there is none, so the bad AT&T data could have meant subsidies would not have gone to areas that were actually eligible for them.

Lankford pointed out that a number of rural carriers had spent a lot of money proving that the data was bad and they should have been able to get subsidies to build out. 

He said those rural carriers will never be compensated for that expense. 

Pai said the staff had looked into the issue and, going forward, the FCC was looking to focus on 5G not doubling down on the 4G, whose availability data had those issues. 

Lankford asked again for an answer: "Are carriers who gave false maps to you going to have consequences?" 

Related: O'Rielly Has Issues with Funding Broadband Before Better Data

Pai did not exactly say yes. He agreed there "are definitely consequences for violating our rules" but said he would not speculate on what those might be, saying it would depend on the individual facts." 

Lankford tripled down: "We just haven't seen it [the consequences] yet." He said he had nothing against the carriers except that they provided false information and that there were consequences for those trying to prove those maps wrong, and in "significantly delaying" the rollout of service.  

He said given those real life consequences from their actions, he wants to make sure that doesn't happen again. 

Pai agreed that "inaccurate information" was not acceptable to either the American taxpayer or to him.  

"No, it is not," said Lankford, pointing out that one real-life consequence is that had the data not been false, some rural residents during the pandemic would have either had "something coming or something there."