How broadband serviceability works

Go behind the scenes with industry expert Shaun Gehring

Editor’s note: Shaun Gehring has worked in the cable internet industry for over 20 years. As part of the industry, Shaun has contributed to many of the products that you use each day. Over the last five years, Shaun was specifically involved in the concept of serviceability or knowing exactly what you can have at your specific location. Today, Shaun is explaining how broadband serviceability works.

Everyone has had it happen. You are shopping for a new internet plan, looking for the fastest internet speed at the best value for your money. As you surf the internet, you see a great deal from a well-known internet service provider (ISP). As you try to complete the purchase you get the dreaded message, “sorry, this service is not available at this address.” 

Why is this so hard? Does anyone know exactly what providers are available for you?

As an engineer, I have worked on this problem for over 10 years for multiple companies. The problem seems so simple. As someone who has thought about it non-stop for a long time, I’ll share with you what I’ve found out about why finding an ISP at your address can be such a challenge.

Why are broadband options limited at any specific address?

There are a few things that can affect this.

Are you in a rural area?

In rural areas, certain technologies do not make financial sense for ISPs. For instance, you might not have great cellular service because the lack of people in the area keeps cellular providers from investing in more towers and better equipment. Generally, in areas like this, you only see DSL (telephone) or satellite options. These technologies are staples in rural areas.

Are you in a condo or apartment complex?

Also referred to as MDUs, or Multi-Dwelling Units, most property management companies do not like to manage multiple providers’ equipment being installed in each apartment, or maybe they don’t like the look of satellite dishes attached to each patio. 

For these reasons, many complexes would enter into an agreement with a single provider; the result was generally a better rate for the customer and maybe even some free level of service as part of the rent.

However, this limited you to one option without the luxury of shopping around to find a better deal.

This problem was recently tackled by the government, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created new rules that prohibit broadband providers from entering into certain revenue-sharing agreements with a building owner that keep competitive providers out of buildings.

Are you in a newly-developed area?

Usually, the utility providers are part of the initial build process and, depending on the amount of homes being built, you will have more options in internet service providers. In some cases, the ISP may not feel that there is enough growth in that area to invest heavily.

What are the unique challenges with each type of broadband?

Each broadband technology presents a unique challenge.


DSL is usually offered by a telephone company or provider. Telephone lines are everywhere either underground or on telephone poles. Telephone line service has been standard to U.S. homes since 1878. 

Challenges: Speeds vary based on the company’s investment in your area. 


Fiber is the next generation of line-delivered broadband service. Fiber optic is data delivered at the speed of light. Glass is used as the delivery mechanism which allows for very high speeds. Current tests have shown that newer solid-core fiber can have a transmission speed of up to 1 Terabit per second (1 Tbit/s) or 1000 times faster than the standard 1 Gig service.

Challenges: Fiber is expensive to install, requires hardware to repeat the service for long cable runs and it’s fragile, so it needs to be installed carefully. Splicing lines of fiber together is a difficult and time-consuming process.


Usually offered by a cable company, cable is not defined as necessary as telephone; it costs more to install and requires additional equipment in the home, making it slightly less available in rural areas than telephone.

Challenges: Cable companies only invest in areas with high returns. If you are in a more rural area or even have a very long driveway, the cable company may only run service after you have committed to investing money in the buildout yourself. This includes poles and cable.

Terrestrial wireless

Usually offered by a telephone company or mobile phone provider, this is basically the same as the internet service you have on your smartphone. You may hear these referred to as LTE, 3G, 4G and 5G.

Challenges: Rollouts of new technology take time. 5G service is the closest to traditional broadband speeds, but transmission distance is reduced, and it is highly affected by obstacles. In a city environment, many people can take advantage of the service. Still, your speed can be affected by your distance to the tower, the material of the buildings in between you and the tower and even some weather conditions.


Usually offered by satellite-only ISPs, these are bi-directional dishes that enable internet connections in rural areas.

Challenges: For the best results, a fully clear southern exposure is needed. This means properly angling the equipment based on your location, having no tree interference and having good weather.

Why is understanding what services are available to you so difficult?

The base for almost all broadband serviceability is the data that the FCC provides. Each broadband provider must register with the FCC where they offer service, what the technology is and what the highest speed is offered in that location. This data is refreshed every six months and is based on a census block. 

A census block is not a unit we are usually familiar with, a census block is usually defined as an area with a population of 4,000 people or less at the time of the census. Depending on your area, like in rural areas, this block could be large; in the city, it may be only a city block. Every 10 years these blocks can change, subdivide or expand. This makes for a very large moving target.

Depending on the size of the block the serviceability varies. Consider this:

You live in a rural area with a small town center and farmland. The Census Block may span most of the area. Just because a service provider lists service in a Census Block, it does not mean they service every household in that block. They may only service the downtown area in the block and not the houses. Based on the FCC data, if you live in a home half a mile from downtown you may assume that you have service, but you don’t.

Currently, ISPs do not share data at a much lower level than that census block. So, depending on how much of the actual census block they serve, the accuracy will increase or decrease. The FCC is attempting to get service providers to submit their serviceability data at the house-passed level which would solve many problems. New serviceability maps are expected from the FCC in November 2022. 

Roadblocks to service

Sometimes, even if the ISP services your neighborhood – and maybe even your neighbor’s house – you still can’t get service. Why? For broadband providers, there are a lot of things that can affect your quality of service. Here are a few examples:


Things that can affect your registering for service:

  • Has that provider ever connected service to that location before?
  • How long ago?
  • Have previous residents left without paying their bills?
  • How old is the wiring in the home?

Terrestrial wireless

Things that can affect your registering for service:

  • How far away are you from the cell tower?
  • Are there big obstructions?
  • What are the wireless signal readings at your location?

Service providers want you to have a good experience with their products and services. They do not like to force a connection that will lead to a very bad experience, because it costs them more to keep you as a customer.

The approach we are taking to improve the accuracy of serviceability

While most places rely solely on the FCC broadband data to show you what you have available, at Allconnect, we realize that we need to become more granular. While the FCC data is a great base, we have been able to organize data in a new manner that allows us to return faster and more accurate serviceability results. 

At the top of the newly organized spatially aware dataset, we have built a system that continually learns and adapts to the changing landscape of broadband service. We monitor indicators and flags from partners and our services. These indicators allow us to get more accurate results for provider coverage within a census block.

Our goal is to provide the most accurate result of what you can get in the broadband space. We understand that to do this we must constantly re-evaluate our processes and the data available to us. Serviceability is an ever-changing landscape, and we are always looking for ways to improve.

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Illustration of a father and daughter in a living room. The father is sitting in an armchair and reading a newspaper, and the daughter is playing with a toy on the floor.
Shaun Gehring

Written by:

Shaun Gehring

Senior Director of Engineering • Home Allocation

Shaun Gehring has worked for over 20 years combined with Cox Communications and Comcast Cable. Throughout that time he was tasked with helping teams adopt new technologies and methodologies. Shaun has worked on … Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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