Industry, Experts Anticipate Many Challenges to FCC Maps
Industry officials and broadband experts said the FCC will likely get many challenges to its broadband availability maps and broadband serviceable location fabric (see 2211100072). Most challenges will likely come from providers rather than consumers, we’re told.
The FCC released its draft map last week and is accepting challenges to the broadband serviceable location fabric designed by CostQuest until Jan. 9 and the service availability data until Jan. 13. CostQuest CEO James Stagemen encouraged challenges during an event last week (see 2211180062).
“CostQuest’s role is to provide the fabric and incorporate the accepted challenges into future versions of the fabric," Stagemen told us, adding the company isn't involved in the actual challenge process for service availability. "Our goal is to make sure the fabric reflects the reality on the ground so that all efforts, including BEAD, are based on the best data possible," Stagemen said: "To that end, CostQuest encourages all parties to review the fabric dataset and provide challenges when there appear to be issues."
There will likely be challenges in every state, said Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University chair-agricultural economics, with at least 1% of every state being either over- or under-counted. The new maps are “a big overhaul,” he said. “An amazing job, but there is no way they got everything right,” he said, noting the two-month window for challenging the maps at the FCC might be too narrow.
NTCA has started receiving “some general inquiries from members about the mapping requirements or processes,” emailed Executive Vice President Mike Romano, but most are handling the fabric and service availability challenges “largely themselves given the fact-specific nature of those processes.” Many members are “actively engaged in these efforts now,” Romano said, and “I would anticipate a sizeable number of challenges in both respects to help ensure the next iteration of the map is more accurate.” The Wireless ISP Association is encouraging its members to "keep submitting their coverage data, keep challenging, just keeping up their communications with the FCC on this," emailed a spokesperson, adding the group is hosting an hour-and-a-half webinar next week to present a "deep dive on the new map, and, importantly, the challenge process, which has numerous practical nuances."
“No single government entity, nor company, can finish weaving the fabric of connectivity on its own," said an Internet Innovation Alliance spokesperson, adding the maps will ensure "smart use of [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] funds" because NTIA is relying on the maps to allocate broadband, equity, access, and deployment program support. Any state shown to have more coverage than it thinks it does will challenge the maps to try to ensure as much BEAD funding as possible, said Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten. The map “can’t be perfect,” with some errors to be expected, but how many is unclear, he said. Since BEAD is a fixed pot of money, there will be winners and losers in funding, relatively speaking, “it’s hard to imagine losers just throwing up their hands,” he said.
The new maps are “significantly better” than the census block-driven maps, giving a much clearer and more granular picture of who has broadband, said Mediacom Senior Vice President-Government & Public Relations Tom Larsen. But, he said, “still some cleanup needs to happen,” citing markets where Mediacom did projects earlier this year that aren’t reflected in the maps. The Jan. 13 deadline for submitting a challenge to the FCC maps isn’t a big concern, he said, because providers still will have opportunities to talk to states about areas that were missed in mapping before BEAD money begins flowing to states. “We have a lot of time to make it as perfect as we can,” he said.
Larsen said a concern is the possibility of local governments filing challenges -- to either drive competitive services in an area with service or to obtain money for establishing service themselves -- even if the challenges are inaccurate, since it puts the onus on operators to disprove. The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is “very concerned” about the FCC’s maps, said Senior Counselor Andrew Schwartzman. There have “been a lot of questions" about the challenge process, fabric, and access to data, Schwartzman said, and providers may be able to file more challenges than consumers because of the resources and time they have.
Small, rural providers could face particular challenges crunching the maps data. Doing that “is work, but it’s not impossible work,” since Mediacom has a mapping department that can overlay data files onto its own maps, Larsen said. “I don’t know that every small provider has that,” he said, and their challenge is compounded by the fact their markets are often hyper-rural.
Echoed Whitacre, small rural providers don’t have the manpower and GIS skills to ensure the data is up to par and will have to rely largely on providers comparing addresses in their billing databases with what shows up in the fabric. “The big guys are going to have more sophisticated technology,” he said. Also, a challenge to rural areas is that not all places in rural Oklahoma, such as some farmhouses, have official addresses, he said.