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Potential Gaps After Challenges?

FCC to Release Initial Broadband Maps Nov. 18, NTIA BEAD Allocations by June 30

NTIA plans to announce its funding allocations for its $42.45 billion broadband, equity, access and deployment program by June 30, it said Thursday. The FCC also announced it will release a draft of its broadband availability map Nov. 18. Eligible entities will be able to challenge it through Jan. 13.

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NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson urged states and individuals to participate in the challenge process, saying it’s “one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps" as the agency makes its funding decisions. “The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” Davidson said.

The initial maps will show "locational level information" about broadband availability and allow individuals to search for whether service is reported at their location and request corrections to the fabric. Individuals will be able to submit challenges “directly through the map,” the commission said. The FCC's broadband data task force plans a virtual technical assistance workshop Nov. 30 at 4 p.m. EDT for potential bulk challenge filers.

Several industry groups welcomed the announcement Thursday. NTCA is “excited,” said Executive Vice President Mike Romano. “A lot of hard work has gone into getting us to this point.” There’s also “a lot of hard work still to do to make sure the underlying fabric accurately captures serviceable locations and coverage claims accurately reflect real-world conditions and well-established network capabilities,” Romano said. It’s “encouraging” that NTIA is waiting for this process before making funding decisions and “it will take additional efforts beyond that to make sure funding is directed to the areas most in need,” he said.

It's "nice to see the FCC move quickly to produce the map, which will both add important information and ultimately help create accurate and granular maps relied upon by the NTIA and the states for the BEAD program,” emailed a Wireless ISP Association spokesperson. The group is "eager to ensure the maps achieve their underlying purpose -- to direct coverage in a manner that is not wasteful, avoids needless overbuilding, and quickly gets broadband to all of the unserved and underserved.”

Releasing the new maps “is a significant milestone,” emailed Next Century Cities Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Johnston, but the time allotted for challenging the FCC’s maps “may not be enough” for states and localities that are still establishing their broadband offices “to create new data collection procedures while promoting consumer participation.” Under-resourced offices may find it “difficult, if not impossible” to develop more qualitative data, Johnston said, so the next iteration of the map will “lack challenge data from some of the most disconnected places in the country.”

NTIA said it plans to offer technical assistance to state broadband officials and governors' offices wishing to file challenges. It will also host webinars on how the public can participate in the challenge process and assist local officials with any problems. Johnston noted the commitment is “promising” and the FCC should do the same: “As the lead agency, it can speak with authority on mapping procedures and provide critical technical assistance for local and state officials.”