Wicker Challenges FCC Assessment of Cell Service in Mississippi

Real-Life Stories Paint Different Picture Than Coverage Shown on Agency Map

April 16, 2018

Earlier this month, I sent out a survey asking Mississippians to tell me about their experiences with mobile broadband.  The responses so far have been forceful but not surprising – Mississippians are very frustrated with their coverage.  This is a far different story than I saw on the wireless coverage map released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February.  According to this flawed FCC map, only a fraction – 2 percent – of our state does not have access to a consistent 4G LTE connection, one of the fastest connections available.  Simply put, the FCC map is wrong. 

Mississippians Describe Impact of Poor Connectivity

In just over a week, I received more than 1,800 responses to my short survey, which specifically asked about the quality of service and whether Mississippians had experienced any negative issues with connectivity.  A majority replied they did not have fast wireless internet service at home or work. 

The survey also revealed how the lack of reliable wireless service continues to impact Mississippians’ daily lives in inconvenient and sometimes costly ways.  Some detailed how difficult it is for their children to complete their homework, requiring frequent trips to the local library to submit assignments online.  One respondent described having to find a place with better coverage in order to apply for a job.  Another said a weak signal made it impossible to FaceTime a loved one deployed overseas.  Several respondents expressed concerns about safety, describing worries about whether their vehicle might break down in an area with no coverage or how connection problems had once interfered with their call to the police to report a disturbance. 

Map Accuracy Is Important to Rural Broadband Deployment

This feedback and the real-life experiences of Mississippians are important to closing the digital divide that exists between our country’s rural and urban areas.  We need to know exactly where coverage and support is lacking.  The purpose of the FCC’s map on wireless internet coverage is to help determine where to send Mobility Fund Phase II funding, which is specifically for rural broadband deployment.  The flaws in the FCC map are troublesome because this could mean that federal resources may not get to areas with the greatest need.  Even though Mississippi is a rural state, 98 percent would not be eligible for Mobility Fund Phase II funding under the current map. 

As chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees internet and telecommunications issues, I have expressed my concerns about the map to the FCC, and I look forward to the agency improving it over the coming months.  Challenges to the map’s accuracy can be submitted to the FCC until August, after which the agency will release a final version of the map.  On April 10, the FCC released the same wireless coverage map with more information about provider coverage.  This is a very small step in the right direction but still does not capture the full picture.  I wish the majority of our state had 4G LTE coverage as the map illustrates, but anyone who has traveled across Mississippi knows otherwise.  Until mobile broadband can be enjoyed consistently in our rural communities, we have work to do.  That begins by demanding the FCC map get it right.