Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

The Federal Communications Commission has announced an investigation into whether carriers falsely reported information about their coverage areas to the agency, therefore screwing people over. The FCC said Friday that it would halt its $4.53 billion program aimed at providing high-speed mobile broadband coverage in rural areas while the investigation is underway.

The FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II program requested that mobile providers submit data on the scope of their broadband coverage to help determine where those funds should go. The FCC said a review of speed test data turned up some serious red flags, and its Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency needed to evaluate the accuracy of the data before moving forward with the program.

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“My top priority is bridging the digital divide and ensuring that Americans have access to digital opportunity regardless of where they live, and the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II program can play a key role in extending high-speed Internet access to rural areas across America,” Pai said in a statement. “In order to reach those areas, it’s critical that we know where access is and where it is not.”

The FCC said it would be examining whether “one or more major carriers” submitted inaccurate data. And while no specific carriers were mentioned in the agency’s announcement this week, Verizon was accused of lying to the FCC about its 4G LTE coverage in August by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) trade group.

“Verizon should not be allowed to abuse the FCC challenge process by filing a sham coverage map as a means of interfering with the ability of rural carriers to continue to receive universal service support in rural areas,” the group wrote in a letter to the FCC.

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The group added: “Failure by the Commission to enforce its coverage map requirements against Verizon will undermine the Challenge Process which, in turn, will harm rural carriers, and the customers they serve, who are reliant on receiving support in areas where unsubsidized carriers like Verizon do not serve.”

As Pai has now twice this year been honored for his “courage,” surely he can be trusted to handle this.

[FCC via Reuters]

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