Broadband Mapping Experts Raise Concerns About FCC Challenge Process
Broadband mapping experts raised questions about crowdsourcing and availability data challenges to the FCC's new broadband maps during a Broadband Breakfast webinar Wednesday. Some expressed concerns about how the challenge process will affect the maps that NTIA will ultimately use for the broadband, equity, access and deployment program as the agency urged entities to file challenges by Jan. 13.
Maine's challenge process has been "more technical and focused on using geospatial analysis to try to understand what is accurate” when looking at service providers’ submissions to the FCC, said Meghan Grabill, Maine Connectivity Authority geospatial data analyst. "We found some discrepancies" after sending out field teams throughout the state, Grabill said. "The hardest thing for us to investigate has been the fixed wireless providers."
The current challenge process runs the risk of the new maps "looking exactly" as the old did by "almost exclusively" relying on ISP data, said Precision Ag Connectivity Act Stakeholder Alliance Executive Director Garland McCoy: There's "very little third-party data." ISPs will be able to challenge any bulk or crowdsourced data, McCoy said: "The bottom line is they will kick it all out" by arguing how the data was logged and submitted.
There has been "a lot of interest" in using crowdsourced data from entities seeking broadband funding, said BroadbandToolkit.com founder Randolph Luening, but it's less likely to be applicable for the BEAD program. The FCC's decision to not require a formal response from ISPs to crowdsourced data "removes a lot of the incentives for states and others to be aggressive there," Luening said, but the data can make a "pretty good argument" that service reported by ISPs may not be in a given location: "It's still a very powerful tool." The crowdsourcing and speed data challenge "hasn't been a great focus" for the state because of the "lack of teeth that comes with filing a crowdsourced submission," Grabill noted.
Another problem is identifying areas that are "off the grid," Luening said: "If the FCC doesn't know they exist, then there's probably not cable or dark fiber going to that location." There's some uncertainty still about how to challenge availability data for those locations, he said. Grabill encouraged individuals to continue challenging location and crowdsourcing data although it may not count for BEAD allocations because the state is "under the impression we'll be able to use the crowdsourced data to make determinations" for funding distribution. The adjudication process for formal challenges also "has time to play out" if an ISP doesn't accept a challenged data point, Grabill said. It "gives states and others time to still get more challenges in" ahead of the next filing deadline, she said, noting it was "alluded to" during a recent office hour with NTIA and FCC officials that there would be a "small opportunity" to challenge that availability data.
Providers should consider the value of challenging the fabric if certain locations don’t show up on the map because they “built out all of this fiber to get those subscribers served,” said Vantage Point Solutions Senior Analyst Tammie Herrlein during a Fiber Broadband Association webinar Wednesday. “Let's make this map correct so that the funding when it flows will flow to the appropriate areas,” Herrlein said, “especially if you're going to go out to additional locations that may be unserved or underserved.”