FCC’s Broadband Map Is At A Critical Stage
By Carl Northrop and Ashley Brydone-Jack · Listen to article
Law360 (December 21, 2022, 4:01 PM EST) —
Some aspects of the many broadband initiatives that are underway to close the digital divide have generated debate and controversy. For example, there are those who enthusiastically support the National Telecommunications and Information Administration‘s strong preference for fiber, and those who believe that the potential of wireless to serve the last mile is being unfairly overlooked.
Some think the Federal Communications Commission should put its broadband initiatives on hold until the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment, or BEAD, funds are distributed to service providers by the states, while others want the FCC’s programs to proceed as soon as possible. There are critics who believe the latest broadband funding is costing taxpayers too much money; others propose that broadband grants be tax-exempt.
There is, however, at least one issue on which everyone agrees: An accurate broadband map is essential in order for broadband funds to be properly directed to unserved and underserved areas. As a result, both the FCC and NTIA are committed to a process that will generate the necessary map as soon as possible. And, this mapping initiative now is at a critical stage.
On Nov. 18, the FCC published the first iteration of the new national broadband map. This interactive map depicts both fixed and mobile broadband availability on a location specific basis using several layers of data. The first layer, which the FCC calls the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, depicts the homes and businesses where mass-market broadband internet access service is or could be installed. Data is added on top of the Fabric, regarding either fixed or mobile broadband service availability and speeds at each location, as reported by service providers in the most recent broadband data collection.
The FCC has established a process that enables interested parties to file challenges to both the Fabric and the reported service availability data. The FCC intends to update the
map continually, but the NTIA recommends that challenges to the Fabric and broadband service availability and speeds be submitted by Jan. 13, 2023. Challenges filed after that date may not be reflected in the May 15, 2023, version of the map that NTIA plans to use to determine how to divide BEAD funding among the states.
Who should review the broadband map and lodge challenges if inaccuracies are found? The short answer: everyone!
Since the map will be used to distribute BEAD funding for unserved and underserved locations, everyone should review the map to make sure their homes and businesses are listed and the correct service is reported, particularly if they currently lack access to high-speed, reliable broadband.
Some groups may have a particularly keen interest in the accuracy of the map. For example, existing broadband service providers should make sure that the locations they serve, and the nature and extent of the services provided, are properly reflected on the map. Otherwise, they risk having their territories overbuilt by a competitor with the aid of government funds.
State and local broadband offices should ensure that the unserved and underserved locations in their geographic areas of interest, and the scope of available services, are properly depicted so they receive the correct allocation of funds from the NTIA and are able to make informed decisions when it comes time to award those funds to service providers. County and city leaders in areas on the wrong side of the digital divide will want to make sure that all locations in their regions are accurately depicted on the map to increase the likelihood that service will be more quickly extended where needed.
Managers of neighborhood homeowners associations in communities that are not receiving reliable, high-speed internet should be checking the map and challenging inaccuracies. Developers of new residential communities that may not yet be depicted as serviceable locations should review whether their new development is correctly reported, to ensure new residents have access to broadband.
In short, everyone in need of improved broadband service, everyone providing or planning to provide such service and all those responsible for authorizing such service have a vested interest in the accuracy of the map.
As noted earlier, the map is composed of many layers of data, and all of the data is subject to challenge. In general, there are two broad types of challenges. First, there are location challenges, which alert the FCC to an error in the underlying Fabric (e.g., a serviceable location is missing, improperly located or mischaracterized).
Second, there are availability challenges, which inform the FCC that the available services listed at a particular location are mistaken. Perhaps, for example, the listed speeds of service are incorrect, or the service provider failed to timely fill a request for service at a particular location. Availability challenges can be submitted for both fixed and mobile services at a location, though they must be submitted as separate challenges.
Both types of challenges can be submitted either as individual challenges or as a bulk challenge. Individual challenges can be filed to correct information pertaining to a single serviceable location. For example, a homeowner may file an individual challenge to add a home address to the Fabric or to correct the speeds of service offered by a particular provider. Individual location challenges and availability challenges for fixed service offerings may be submitted directly through the FCC’s mapping interface. Individual availability challenges for mobile service can be submitted by downloading an FCC approved app on a mobile device, such as the FCC’s Speed Test App.
Bulk challenges are used to correct errors pertaining to multiple locations in a single submission. Bulk challenges will typically be filed by governmental entities, service providers, or other third-party entities that are responsible for a number of locations. Before submitting a bulk challenge, the entity is required to obtain an FCC registration number, register for the broadband data collection system, and execute a license agreement with CostQuest (the FCC’s Fabric creator).
Bulk challengers need to format the provided information correctly, and to include all required information and certifications, and evidence to support the challenge. The type of formatting, information and evidence will depend on whether it is a location challenge, a fixed availability challenge, or mobile availability challenge. The information can be extensive. For example, bulk challenges are required to describe the methodology used to gather the submitted information.
In sum, the ongoing challenge process provides an opportunity for everyone to participate in helping close the digital divide — by making sure that the map used to allocate funds is as accurate as possible.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employer, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.