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Communications Infrastructure

Policy and Politics

BEAD Update: NTIA Sets the Stage for the Next Round of Mapping Updates

May 16, 2023 | NTIA recently released guidance on the next phase of the $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, laying the ground work for the states to weigh in on the FCC’s broadband map and the unserved and underserved locations identified in their geographies.

Recall that the FCC is working on a comprehensive map that will, for the first time, identify all broadband serviceable locations in the US by address and classify each location as served, underserved or unserved. The states have significant interest in this classification, and they will only attract dollars for under- or unserved locations. And many have argued that the current draft FCC map overstates the level of service actually available in their state.

NTIA recently offered guidance on how the states should run a challenge process on the current service classifications. This process is distinct from the challenge process currently underway at the FCC, which is being conducted to update the identification of the specific broadband serviceable locations that are capable of being served in each state.

Specifically, the NTIA is proposing that each state establish a challenge process in which it publishes all locations classified as under- or unserved and thus eligible for BEAD funding. The state would then accept challenges to the service classifications, as well as rebuttal information from any challenged ISP before making final determinations. Final location classifications must be published at least 60 days before states can begin to allocate grant funds for network deployment.

Most states will likely seek to challenge at least some locations that the FCC map identified as served. The NTIA’s guidance specifically allows states to challenge a location considered served by the FCC as actually underserved, but it must use “rigorous speed test methodologies” to demonstrate that the location receives service below 100/20 Mbps. States are likely to focus on locations served by lower speed DSL facilities to draw “underserved” dollars that could support fiber upgrades in those areas.

To mitigate potential funding duplication with other federal and state broadband programs, the NTIA plans to release a toolkit that will overlay multiple data sources to “capture federal, state and local enforceable commitments,” including RDOF commitments. Note, however, that states can seek a waiver to include areas already funded by another program if they believe such a waiver is essential to ensuring that the goals of the BEAD program are achieved.

While I expect many states to actively engage to further fine-tune the mapping, I don’t expect there will be changes that will dramatically alter the preliminary funding allocations, which the NTIA has said will be announced by June 30. The current version of the FCC map reflects 113 million broadband serviceable locations, eight million of which are represented as unserved (or roughly seven percent of the total). Due to the size of the data set of served locations, NTIA has said that it would take an outsized increase or decrease in the number of unserved locations within any geography to have a significant impact on the final BEAD allocations.

Once the NTIA releases the Notice of Available Amounts for each state on June 30, the states will have 180 days to submit to the NTIA an Initial Proposal, which will, among other things, describe the competitive process the state will use to select subgrantees to construct broadband projects. Before submitting that proposal to the NTIA, it must be put out for public comment. In short, we will learn much more about how the states plan to manage their BEAD allocations in the second half of this year.

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