Both Maryland senators and seven of state’s eight members of Congress sent a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel last week asking for more time to file challenges to the current version of the commission’s National Broadband Map.
According to the letter, Maryland’s Office of Statewide Broadband “found approximately 3,800 addresses incorrectly identified as serviceable by internet service providers (ISPs) compared to the state’s information on unserved locations.”
The wording is a bit confusing, as the word “serviceable” normally applies to the National Broadband Map location database, rather than the availability data. In mapping jargon, a broadband serviceable location is one that could be served by broadband (for example, a mobile home in a mobile home park that someone lives in, as opposed to a mobile home for sale on a mobile home sales lot, which would not be a broadband serviceable location).
Broadband availability data, on the other hand, is reported to the FCC by broadband internet providers, who are required to advise the FCC of all broadband serviceable locations to which they offer service.
It’s clear that the senators’ and representatives’ concerns are about availability data. According to their letter, “extended challenge time would allow for a more thorough analysis and identification of additional unserved households.”
The letter adds that the stakes are high. “Inaccurate data will result in unfair funding allocations,” it says – an apparent reference to the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Fund.
The legislators’ request, however, is coming two months after the January 13 date by which stakeholders were encouraged to file challenges in order to maximize the likelihood that the challenges would be addressed in time to be reflected in state allocations for the BEAD program, scheduled for June 30.
The NTIA, which is administering the BEAD program, advised stakeholders of the January 13 date in late December, although it is the FCC that is responsible for the National Broadband Map.
Some stakeholders asked NTIA and/or the FCC to allow more time for the challenge process, but the NTIA rejected that request at that time, arguing that doing so would delay BEAD allocations at a time when some areas badly needed broadband.
More recently, Rosenworcel said the FCC could not deviate from the twice-yearly schedule for updating the National Broadband Map.
Both NTIA and the FCC have received criticism for not communicating challenge timelines clearly and in a timely manner.
Maryland’s senators and representatives are not the only stakeholders that have requested more time on challenges, even after NTIA and/or the FCC have said there would be no extensions. The state of Alaska, for example, asked for more time in late January after NTIA said the map would not be delayed.
Those arguing against a delay argue that additional availability data is unlikely to materially affect state allocations. But don’t we need accurate data for the purposes of awarding funding to broadband providers for buildouts?
Evan Feinman, director of the BEAD program, has encouraged states to conduct their own challenge process on broadband availability data for their states.