Challenging the FCC broadband map: Guidance to local governments

Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, VP for Broadband Strategy

CTC Technology & Energy

The FCC will be accepting challenges to the address-level service availability data in the pre-production National Broadband Map through January 13, 2023. While challenges can continue beyond the January 13th deadline, that’s the date on which challenges are expected to end for purposes of the most consequential use of the map—NTIA’s allocations among the states of the $42.5 billion in IIJA broadband infrastructure funds through the BEAD program.

Using the challenge data, the FCC is expected to release an updated version of the map in spring 2023. The updated mapping data will be the basis on which NTIA will determine each state’s number of unserved and high-cost unserved locations as a share of the entire country’s unserved population. BEAD allocations will be calculated accordingly.

So, while it’s clear that state governments will benefit from identifying and challenging inaccurate map data prior to January 13th, the benefits of increasing a state’s BEAD allocation will have only an indirect impact at the local level.

After that first deadline, however, there are opportunities to continue to challenge the FCC map and, later, the NTIA’s grant-eligible locations map when it becomes ready. Post-January 13th, map challenges will continue to be critical to local jurisdictions to ensure their residents and community anchors will be connected.

The FCC has not made it easy for state and local governments to submit challenges to its address fabric and coverage maps—nor has it provided adequate time for them to provide feedback and collect evidence to affect a state’s allocation of the BEAD funding.

Many states, however, have their own address fabrics and have decided to strategically mount both location and service availability challenges. The first step for localities, therefore, is to check with their state broadband office to see whether the office has a challenge process underway. City and county governments may be able to contribute address location and parcel data to assist in the location challenge efforts, depending on the source and quality of the state’s address fabric.

Beyond identifying addresses, localities that want to challenge the FCC’s map face tight deadlines and potentially high costs. Likely the biggest return on investment will be from the following approaches:

  1. Spread the word to residents and businesses to check their address on the FCC’s broadband map and mount an individual service availability or location challenge if they find inaccurate information. In terms of service availability, residents can paste screenshots of ISP websites that indicate service is not available to their address. They can also save online customer service chat transcripts in which an ISP declines to provide service or will only do so for an extra fee. If residents find that their locations are missing, misplaced on the map, or have wrong address details, they can submit a brief description of the location error.
  2. Compare address fabrics (i.e., locations, not service availability claims) and submit a bulk location challenge that identifies locations that appear in local address fabric but not the FCC’s fabric. If a state broadband office is not already taking this approach, a locality can mount a bulk address fabric challenge.

To submit a bulk location challenge, the jurisdiction should compare its independent address fabric (sourced from E911 or tax records, for example) to the FCC’s fabric (access to which requires signing a license agreement). An engineer would oversee the alignment of addresses across the data sets and the tying of the two sets of address data to parcel data; identifying the locations not included in the FCC fabric; and comparing those locations to the FCC’s service availability data to identify the unserved locations that are missing from the FCC’s data and can thus be challenged. The engineer would then prepare a statement to attach to the bulk submission that documents the process.

For the local government that just wants to make sure unserved areas are picked up and included as fundable locations, there is much more time to challenge the FCC’s data. The challenge data can be submitted in waves, and crowd-sourced data using speed tests may have an impact on how NTIA subsequently draws up its own grant eligibility maps. A local-government-sponsored speed test website can be an effective tool for gathering data to communicate to NTIA not just updates to its address fabric but also exaggerated ISP claims on coverage and speeds.

The CTC team is available to help state and local governments develop FCC broadband map challenges, including strategic and tactical approaches to gathering and analyzing location and service data. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.

Published: Thursday, December 15, 2022 by CTC Technology & Energy