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NTIA 'Evaluating' States' Concerns with Map Challenge Timing

NTIA hears states’ concerns about an imminent deadline to challenge inaccuracies in the FCC’s national broadband map, NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said Tuesday. Challenges are due Jan. 13 to the first-draft map that will be used to determine broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) support allocations beyond the minimum $100 million each state will receive. “We will be keenly interested in the coming days to hear … from states about their needs, and we’ll be evaluating it,” said Davidson on a virtual call announcing nearly $9 million planning funds for California, including about $5 million for BEAD and $4 million for digital equity.

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Texas urged a 60-day extension last week to the challenge deadline and BEAD allocation announcements (see 2212130076). Others including Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont also sought an extension to challenge the FCC map, which they say contains inaccuracies about coverage (see 2212020063).

We know that the maps are incredibly essential to make sure that we’re spending all of this money wisely, and that we’re directing it where the need is greatest,” said Davidson. The new map will be “better than anything we’ve had before, but it’s going to take work to get [it] there.” NTIA knows some states will need more help than others on mapping, he said. “We’re open and listening to what the states’ needs are,” but “also aware that every month that we push back on these programs and delay is another month that we’re not getting money out the door and helping serve the communities who so desperately need to get connected.”

California is “taking a really close look at the maps,” said California Public Utilities Commission President Alice Reynolds on the same call. “We’ve done a lot of work to gather data leading up to the release of the maps. … We want to make sure we’re best prepared for the challenge process, and we’re continuing to undertake that work.” The CPUC is “taking it very seriously” and “considering what we need to do to provide the best response.”

States’ advocacy effort to get more time has “very clearly been taken seriously by the federal partners,” said Maine Connectivity Authority President Andrew Butcher in an interview Thursday. “There’s an ongoing dialogue with the federal agencies” and Butcher appreciates “the direct engagement that we’ve had with senior leadership at the FCC and NTIA,” he said. “They’re trying to fulfill the obligations and commitments that have been made and keeping the process moving forward.”

Now with BEAD planning funds, the CPUC “will kick off a public engagement process to develop the roadmap of how these funds will be used in California,” said Reynolds. The agency hopes to hear from local governments, tribes, regional broadband consortia, digital equity advocates, labor and ISPs, she said. “This outreach is essential and will ensure that … we’re using these funds as effectively and equitably as possible.” California “will strive to fund sustainable networks that offer future-proof, reliable and affordable services,” including for local government and tribes seeking to build their own networks, she said.

New Jersey will get about $6.1 million for planning, including $4.9 million for BEAD and $1.2 million for the digital equity program, NTIA said earlier the same day. “It’s comprehensive federal investments like these that will continue to make our state fairer and our communities more equitable for generations to come,” said Gov. Phil Murphy (D). New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso also applauded the grants. “There are still far too many New Jersey residents and businesses who don’t have access to high speed Internet and it is the Murphy Administration’s goal to make sure that they do as quickly as possible.”

Also Tuesday, NTIA awarded nine additional states their planning grants. Texas received more than $8.1 million, Illinois received more than $6.5 million, Indiana and Oklahoma each received more than $5.8 million, Oregon and Nevada each received more than $5.7 million, Vermont and New Hampshire each received more than $5.5 million, and Wyoming received more than $5.4 million.