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Permanent Waiver?

Groups Split on Need for Certified Professional Engineers in BDC Process

NTCA and the Rural Wireless Association continued to raise concerns about USTelecom and the Competitive Carriers Association's joint petition to extend the FCC's waiver of broadband data collection (BDC) rules allowing filers to submit information by a nonlicensed professional engineer (PE), per reply comments posted Tuesday in docket 19-195 (see 2309050065). Others disagreed and urged the commission to consider granting a permanent waiver due to continued workforce shortages.

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Arguments in support are "unpersuasive and unsupported by anything other than the broadest assertions," NTCA said. Claims that the waiver improved BDC submissions are also a "confounding and baseless assertion," the group said, adding it's "hard to fathom the notion that a waiver was ... necessary to give providers adequate incentives to be prompt in complying with a Commission reporting requirement." RWA agreed, adding commenters in support of the petition "fail to demonstrate" that there is still a lack of PEs.

Any waiver extension should apply only to "facilities-based providers of terrestrial mobile broadband service with two million or fewer subscribers and facilities-based providers of fixed broadband service serving 100,000 or fewer locations," RWA said. The group noted that corporate engineer officers also satisfy the certification requirement if an ISP is unable to find a licensed PE.

Vantage Point Solutions joined NTCA and RWA in opposition. The requirement "would have provided the accountability needed to ensure the BDC data is accurate," it said, but the waiver "has resulted in carriers overstating the broadband available at numerous locations." There "needs to be an appropriate level of quality control and oversight when billions of dollars of infrastructure and USF are at risk," Vantage Point said.

Most commenters disagreed and urged the commission to grant the petition. The use of a licensed PE "is not essential to ensure accuracy and accountability," said USTelecom and CCA in joint comments. "What ensures accuracy and accountability are the multiple verification and validation processes inherent in the system," the groups said, noting there are "other well qualified engineers beyond certified PEs that are capable of making the certification to the use of professional engineering standards."

The requirement is "unnecessary" and "creates a significant hardship for smaller ISPs," said the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The group backed granting a waiver at a minimum for ISPs reporting the ability to serve fewer than 100,000 locations nationwide if the commission declines to grant a waiver for all ISPs.

The current limited waiver has "led to timely BDC submissions" and "enjoyed strong support in the record," said the Wireless ISP Association. WISPA asked the commission to begin a rulemaking seeking comment on incorporating the waiver into the BDC rules. Claims that extending the waiver will compromise the accuracy of the FCC's broadband maps are "wholly speculative and unsubstantiated," said CTIA. The group argued there is "industry-wide concern impacting all broadband providers, regardless of technology or size," adding that larger providers may need to retain multiple PEs to certify data in each state they operate in because a single PE is "rarely licensed" in more than one state at once.