Cable ISP fined $10,000 for lying to FCC about where it offers broadband

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Businessman secretly crossing fingers
Enlarge / “Yes, we offer Internet at your address.”

An Internet service provider that admitted lying to the Federal Communications Commission about where it offers broadband will pay a $10,000 fine and implement a compliance plan to prevent future violations.

Jefferson County Cable (JCC), a small ISP in Toronto, Ohio, admitted that it falsely claimed to offer fiber service in an area that it hadn’t expanded to yet. A company executive also admitted that the firm submitted false coverage data to prevent other ISPs from obtaining government grants to serve the area. Ars helped expose the incident in a February 2023 article.

The FCC announced the outcome of its investigation on March 15, saying that Jefferson County Cable violated the Broadband Data Collection program requirements and the Broadband DATA Act, a US law, “in connection with reporting inaccurate information or data with respect to the Company’s ability to provide broadband Internet access service.”

“To settle this matter, Jefferson County Cable agrees to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States Treasury,” the FCC said. “Jefferson County Cable also agrees to implement enhanced compliance measures. This action will help further the Commission’s efforts to bridge the digital divide by having accurate data of locations where broadband service is available.”

We also published reports in February 2023 detailing false broadband claims made by Comcast, which initially insisted that the false data it submitted to the FCC was correct. It’s not clear yet whether Comcast will face any punishment.

Inaccurate claims for 1,500 addresses

Last week’s FCC order said that Jefferson County Cable initially reported serving 8,178 addresses for the commission’s June 30, 2022, data collection. It then reduced that number to 6,605 addresses in the FCC’s next round of data collection for December 31, 2022.

Even the second, lower number was higher than Jefferson County Cable’s actual coverage. After a letter from the FCC Enforcement Bureau in March 2023, “Jefferson County Cable corrected its inaccurate submissions for both data filings by removing these approximately 1,500 locations from each of the relevant data filings on May 19, 2023,” the FCC order said.

“At that time, the Company could not provide broadband service at or connect those locations within 10 business days of a request for service, as required by the Broadband Data Collection Rules,” the FCC said. “Jefferson County Cable acknowledged to the Bureau that it had not taken the necessary time and effort to review and understand the Commission’s guidance on Broadband Data Collection filings before it made these two filings.”

Jefferson County Cable’s false claim came to light thanks to Ryan Grewell, who runs a small wireless Internet service provider called Smart Way Communications. He heard about the false claims from his own customers and used the FCC’s map system to file challenges at specific addresses.

Damning email

One of Grewell’s challenges at an address in Bergholz, Ohio, led to the cable company admitting its false claims. Last week’s FCC order said this address was one of the 1,500 incorrectly claimed locations.

As we reported, Grewell got a response from a Jefferson County Cable executive who mistakenly thought Grewell was a potential customer instead of a competitor. The email said that Jefferson County Cable didn’t serve the area yet, but wanted to prevent potential competitors from getting deployment grants.

“You challenged that we do not have service at your residence and indeed we don’t today,” said the January 2023 email from Jefferson County Cable executive Bob Loveridge. “With our huge investment in upgrading our service to provide xgpon we reported to the BDC [Broadband Data Collection] that we have service at your residence so that they would not allocate addition [sic] broadband expansion money over [the] top of our private investment in our plant.”

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