AT&T and T-Mobile are fighting a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to require “on-the-ground” drive tests to “verify the accuracy” of the mobile carriers’ coverage maps.

The proposal comes after the organization found the carriers exaggerated their 4G coverage in official filings, as reported by ARS Techica. That can result in government broadband funding not going to the areas where it is needed most.

AT&T objected to the proposed drive-testing requirement in a filing to the FCC on Tuesday this week, saying that annual “drive testing is not the proper solution for verifying nationwide coverage maps” and that there is “potential difficulty in determining how to formulate a statistically valid sample for areas given the terrain variability nationwide.”

As stated in the article, AT&T complained about costs while further explaining its position:

With respect to cost, AT&T estimates that to drive test just 25 percent of the square kilometers of its nationwide 4G LTE coverage would cost approximately $45 million each year and that drive testing only 10 percent of its coverage would still cost as much as $18 million/year. Requiring that all carriers conduct such nationwide drive tests, especially on a regular basis, is simply too costly especially at a time when investment in 5G deployment is a top national priority. The [FCC order] proposes to use a statistically valid sample where carriers would be expected to conduct a certain amount of drive tests “that is statistically appropriate for the area tested.” However, there is no indication of how an “area” would be defined, which makes it difficult to assess the feasibility of developing a sample.
Instead of drive testing, AT&T suggested that the FCC could “collect certain confidential tower site location information, which would be a better verification tool compared to drive testing.”

T-Mobile raised similar objections in a filing submitted Monday:

[T]he Commission should not require providers to conduct regular on-the-ground testing. The Commission has considered and rejected similar requirements several times in the past, for the simple reason that on-the-ground testing at scale is “highly complex, time-consuming, and expensive.” Drive tests and similar procedures are extremely expensive and burdensome to conduct, especially at the scale needed for a statistically significant sample of a nationwide network. A blanket requirement to perform regular on-the-ground testing will force providers to spend millions of dollars each year on tests, resources that would be better spent investing in our network and deployment in rural America.
Verizon had objected to the possibility of a nationwide drive-test requirement in a September 2019 filing, saying that “Verizon conducts drive tests in a more targeted manner to calibrate its propagation model and to confirm the accuracy of the model.” With the FCC deciding to require only a statistically significant sample, Verizon’s more recent filings either didn’t mention drive testing or merely sought clarification on the FCC drive-test plan.

The FCC said its tentative plan for carrier-submitted speed tests would at a minimum require “that the speed tests include downlink, uplink, latency, and signal strength measurements and that they be performed using an end-user application that measures performance between the mobile device and specified test servers.”

The FCC also proposed “that speed tests must be taken outdoors” and in a “combination of mobile and stationary tests to accurately verify the coverage speed maps.”