Broadband network testing requirements: less than a year to implement
On July 6, 2018, the Wireline Competition Bureau, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Office of Engineering and Technology issued an order adopting broadband network testing requirements for recipients of the Connect America Fund high-cost universal service support that have buildout obligations, including:
- price cap carriers accepting model-based CAF Phase II support,
- certain rate-of-return carriers, including Alternative Connect America Cost Model recipients and legacy carriers with buildout obligations,
- rural broadband experiment support recipients,
- Alaska Plan carriers and
- CAF Phase II auction winners.
Certifications begin in 2020
The order establishes a uniform framework for measuring the speed and latency performance of fixed voice and broadband services to ensure recipients of high-cost support are meeting their service obligations. Section 54.313(a)(6) of the Commission’s rules requires high-cost support recipients to report “[t]he results of network performance tests pursuant to the methodology and in the format determined by the Wireline Competition Bureau, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, and the Office of Engineering and Technology” and requires eligible telecommunications carriers to retain such records for at least 10 years from the receipt of funding. Carriers are required to submit testing results as part of their annual Form 481 compliance certifications beginning July 1, 2020. In the event of non-compliance, the order provides for penalties in terms of reduced high-cost support. All test results will be subject to audit by USAC.
Some key testing requirements:
- Up to 50 locations per CAF-required service tier offering per state must be tested; if less than 50 subscribers at CAF-supported locations in a given service tier, the number of testing locations is reduced to five.
- Speed and latency must be tested from the customer premises of an active subscriber to a remote test server located at or reached by passing through an FCC-designated internet exchange point.
- An 80/80 standard for demonstration of compliance with speed performance metrics is required, i.e., 80 percent of download and upload measurements must be at or above 80 percent of the CAF-required speed tier.
- A provider’s certified test results must show, for each state, that 95 percent or more of all tests of network round-trip latency are at or below 100 ms when measured between the customer premises and a remote server located at or reached by passing through an FCC-designated IXP.
The Commission is allowing carriers some flexibility on the testing methods used. ETCs may use the existing Measuring Broadband America testing program, off-the-shelf testing platforms or carrier-developed test systems. Carriers will need to develop procedures to test systems in a consistent manner and compile the data. Carriers receiving high-cost support have about one year to put all the requisite equipment, systems and procedures in place. Carriers and vendor communities may want to begin working on how to meet the order’s requirements including beta testing of test platforms, software, procedures and reporting formats.
Commission sets clear compliance requirements
Carriers who do not comply with the speed and latency requirements will be subject to a reduction in monthly support, commensurate with their level of noncompliance. Compliance penalties range from five percent of support withheld for anything less than 100 percent compliance up to 25 percent of support withheld for less than 55 percent compliance. The order established a four-level framework that sets forth obligations and automatic triggers based on an ETC’s degree of compliance with the latency, speed and, if applicable, mean opinion score testing standards in each state and high-cost support program.
Although performance tests are required to be conducted quarterly, all test results must be reported annually. The FCC has indicated it “will exclude from certification calculations any speed measurement with values greater than 150% of the advertised speed, because such values are likely invalid.” USAC will calculate the compliance percentages required using the data submitted.
The first set of testing data and accompanying certifications must be submitted by July 1, 2020, which includes data for at least the third and fourth quarters of 2019. Subsequently, data and certifications will be due by July 1 of each year for testing conducted the preceding calendar year. Providers not fully compliant with the speed and latency standards must submit quarterly reports to include one week of test results and describe steps taken to resolve the compliance gap.
Planning may help ease time concerns
With so much at stake, and the short timeframe to implement these requirements to meet the July 1, 2019 testing start date, carriers may want to begin to identify test locations and develop test plans and scripts. The FCC may issue clarifications and/or an extension of time of the order’s provisions but testing requirements will not be going away.
For the technical details, please see appendix A to the order.