Ryan Grewell, who runs a small wireless Internet service provider in Ohio, received an email last month that confirmed some of his worst suspicions about cable companies.
Grewell, Founder and CEO of intelligent communicationhad heard from some of his clients that the Federal Communications Commission new broadband card falsely claimed fiber optic internet service was available at their homes from another company called Jefferson County Cable. These customer reports spurred Grewell to file a series of lawsuits with the FCC to try to correct failures in Smart Way’s service.
One of Grewell’s challenges prompted a response from Jefferson County Cable executive Bob Loveridge, who apparently thought Grewell was a resident of the attacked address and not a competitor.
“You have challenged that we are not on duty at your apartment, and indeed we are not today,” Loveridge wrote in a Jan. 9 email shared with Grewell Ars. “With our huge investment in improving our service offering xgpon we reported to the BDC [Broadband Data Collection] that we have service at your place of residence so they would not assign extra [sic] Broadband expansion money over [the] Top of our private investment in our factory.”
The email is reminiscent of our November 2022 article about a cable company accidentally telling a competitor about its plan to block government grants to competitors.
In a phone interview with Ars, Grewell said, “This cable company just happened to say the soft part out loud.” He called it “a blatant attempt to block others from receiving funding in an area they want to serve.”
It’s not clear when Jefferson County Cable plans to service the area. The program rules do not allow ISPs to claim future coverage in their map submissions.
Jefferson County Cable eventually admitted to the FCC that it had submitted incorrect data and was asked to file a correction. The challenge the ISP acknowledged was an address off State Route 43 in Bergholz, Ohio. The city is not included in the service areas listed on Jefferson County Cable’s website.
When we checked the FCC broadband card today, we confirmed that the address is no longer listed as Jefferson County Cable Service. But that one solution alone wouldn’t stop the company’s grant-blocking strategy from working, since the FCC card still lists the company as serving the address right next door and others on the same street.
Incorrect dates hurt ISPs seeking grants
Fake broadband data could hurt Smart Way directly as the ISP plans to apply for grants to upgrade its network. There have been over a million challenges filed with the FCC nationwide, and it’s unknown how many total bugs are on the card.
The new FCC map aims to show exactly which homes and businesses have access to internet services and what types of services are available at each address. This data will be used by the US government and states to decide how to allocate federal funding to projects that fill gaps in broadband availability.
But the maps rely on ISPs to report where they offer service and are riddled with bugs showing ISPs claim to serve more homes than they actually do. Nevada officials said they found more than 20,000 bugs in their state alone. Vermont officials said The map “misses or incorrectly lists the location of over 60,000 broadband-enabled sites” and “lists service availability far in excess of what the state has determined through its mapping and what we hear from local residents.”
If you would like to submit challenges, you can search specific addresses for reported broadband availability here and use this page to submit challenges. In addition to individual submissions, state governments and broadband-focused groups have submitted bulk challenges.
Grewell said he filed about a dozen challenges in late November, most of which involved addresses allegedly served by Jefferson County Cable. He said he submitted the “challenges in areas that I knew had no fiber to the house at all.”
We have not received a response to requests for comment from Loveridge or Jefferson County Cable. But Jefferson County Cable withdrew its coverage claim at the one address referenced in Loveridge’s email following Grewell’s challenge.
“The provider affected by your dispute has acknowledged the dispute and is required to file a correction for the disputed location on the online portal within 30 days,” the FCC told Grewell in an email notification Jan. 12.
Despite that one success, Grewell told us yesterday that he has not received any replies for any of the other addresses he has challenged. As previously mentioned, successfully challenging an address also did not trigger map updates for nearby houses.
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