Today is the date set by NTIA for challenges to be made to the National Broadband Map, which will be used to determine how much money goes to each state in the $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband funding program. But, as an NTIA spokesperson told Telecompetitor several weeks ago, the deadline only applies to one of two types of challenges that can be made to the map. What about the other type?

The two types of challenges are broadband availability challenges (whether a location can get broadband) and broadband serviceable location challenges (whether an address or geocoordinates for an address are correct, whether addresses are missing, etc.). Today’s deadline applies to the former, but not the latter, the NTIA spokesperson told us.

Where does that leave location challenges?

The current version of the broadband serviceable location database is the one that will be used in determining BEAD allocations by state, said Charles Meisch, NTIA public affairs director, in an email response today to Telecompetitor’s inquiry. The location database won’t be updated until the next time the FCC collects broadband availability data, he said.

Service providers are required to submit broadband data twice yearly based on service availability as of June 30 and December 31 of each year. The data currently being submitted is for December 31, 2022 and is due March 1. The next time data will be collected will be for availability as of June 30, 2023.

That’s the same date NTIA has said it will announce BEAD allocations for the states, so it’s too late for any additional challenges to the location database to be reflected in the location data upon which BEAD funding will be allocated.

It’s important to note that challengers can always file either type of challenge. At issue is how soon challenges can be reflected on the map.

Meisch clarified the importance of today’s date.

“We said in November that this date allows for the best chance to have challenges resolved in time for a June 30 allocation announcement,” he said. “That’s based on the maximum amount of time that a challenge can take to be resolved. However, we expect that many challenges filed after today can be resolved in far less time than the maximum allowed under the FCC’s rules, so we have encouraged (and continue to encourage) states to continue to submit challenges to the FCC.”

Again, though, this only applies to availability challenges. For location challenges, it’s too late for the map that will be the basis for state allocations.

How accurate is the location database? The current version has only been available for 10 days so that’s not an easy question to answer.

Broadband Location Challenges

When the FCC undertook the task of updating the map a couple of years or so ago, it came to light that there was no definitive database of broadband serviceable locations in the U.S. A contractor was hired to create the database, and the first version of the database, known as the broadband serviceable location fabric, was made available in June 2022. It was designed for providers to enter availability data for locations that they serve.

The FCC was under pressure to get the map updated quickly. Stakeholders were eager to get broadband funding out so that service providers could begin deploying broadband to unserved areas. And the previous map was notorious for inaccuracies because it was based on the assumption that broadband was available throughout an entire census block even if only one location in the block could get service.

Because the commission was under pressure, there was no challenge process to the location fabric before it was made available to providers to enter their availability data. Providers had from June 30 until September 1 to enter availability data as of June 30. They were told that the fabric would subsequently be updated for the second data collection based on availability as of year-end 2022.

Some providers found problems with the initial location fabric such as missing locations and addresses that were incorrectly geocoded. The state of New York said it found over 30,000 missing addresses in unserved areas that should be eligible for funding.

The FCC began accepting challenges to the location fabric on September 12, a few days after the broadband data filing window closed. The preliminary map based on the first broadband data collection was released on November 18 and the commission began accepting availability challenges at that time.

Second Data Collection

The second data collection commenced 10 days ago, and providers have until March 1 to enter their availability data. When the FCC announced that schedule in late December, it said that the fabric had been updated based on “data from additional data sources and other improvement efforts conducted by the FCC and its contractor,” and by the results of bulk location fabric challenges submitted by state and local governments and broadband providers.

There had been no official deadline for location challenges to be filed in order to be reflected in the updated location fabric, however. Complicating matters, when the NTIA set today’s challenge date, that agency did not state that the deadline only pertained to availability challenges.

It’s also worth noting that the FCC’s announcement about the second data collection states that bulk challenges were incorporated into the updated version of the fabric. But that’s only one way challenges could be made.

Bulk challenges were only available to states, service providers and certain other stakeholders who were able to upload their own databases to the broadband data collection system. Anyone else had to file challenges individually by clicking on locations on the map. And those challenges apparently weren’t reflected in the new location database.

With $42.5 billion riding on the accuracy of both the location and broadband availability data, there’s a lot at stake here, and this is a topic Telecompetitor will continue to follow closely in the coming weeks and months.

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