When it comes to collecting accurate information about broadband service in rural America, NRECA and the electric cooperatives it represents are all for it. But NRECA believes requiring data certification by a licensed professional engineer might do more harm than good.

That’s what the association told the Federal Communications Commission to consider as the agency updates its rules governing connectivity data collection and reporting. The data are used to determine areas that are eligible for financial assistance.

“NRECA is a staunch supporter of granular and accurate broadband data collection and mapping, but demanding certification by a licensed PE would be unnecessarily onerous and costly for small internet service providers,” said Brian O’Hara, NRECA senior director for regulatory issues.

“Many electric co-ops do not have a licensed PE on staff or access to contract one for this particular certification. As a result, that requirement could ultimately delay the mapping of unserved or underserved areas that are in critical need of federal funds to get broadband networks built.”

In June 15 comments to the FCC, NRECA proposed that any engineer be allowed to certify the accuracy of broadband data and that a high-level executive or general counsel be permitted to sign off on the certificate.

To deter submissions of false information, NRECA suggested the FCC levy a range of punitive fines and enforcement actions that increase for repeat offenders. The commission could also intensify its review of future filings from any entity caught providing inaccurate data.

A comparable requirement for the commission’s $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in 2020 was modified to allow data certification from an engineer without a license but with qualifications in broadband network design and operation.

“A similar adjustment in broadband data collection procedures, provided strong accountability provisions for accurate reporting are in place, is consistent with commission precedent and is warranted,” O’Hara said.