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Nation’s Most Accurate Broadband Map Will Come from FCC Challenge Process: NTCA

‘Using the right information at the right time, we’re going to get to a better place.’



Screenshot of Michael Romano, executive VP for NTCA.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s mechanism for challenging the agency’s mapping data will likely enable the creation of the nation’s most accurate broadband map to date, said Michael Romano, executive vice president for rural broadband trade association NTCA.

“The fact that we had all these funding mechanisms coming at the same time when they were required to use the maps, required in some ways the plane to be built as it was being flown,” said Romano at a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

“But as long as folks are faithful about using discipline, about using the right information at the right time, we’re going to get to a better place,” he added.

The FCC’s “fabric” – a location-level dataset that shows where connectivity is and is lacking – is not yet public, although the agency provided a preliminary version to state and local governments, providers, and other entities. These entities can issue challenges to the fabric – which started on September 12 – which the FCC said will be accepted on a rolling basis. The FCC says it expects to release its new maps in November.

Romano said he recognized the difficulties presented by the FCC’s Congress-mandated approach, including, he said, extended timetables, opaque data-gathering processes, and outright errors. However, he said, ongoing challenges – issued from a multitude of stakeholders – will over time be an effective corrective to the inevitable inaccuracies of the FCC’s initial map.

States also have their own challenge processes, said Romano, which will provide another opportunity to correct mistakes on the FCC’s map. “The states are going to be the final sanity check on should we really be giving money in these areas,” he said.

Criticisms of the FCC’s mapping methods

Many industry players have recently criticized the FCC’s mapping process. Jonathan Chambers, partner at telecom Conexon, previously stated that the fabric’s data is highly inaccurate, and has criticized the FCC and its partner CostQuest’s alleged secrecy during the fabric-making process.  

In recent months, internet service providers were required to report to the FCC all serviceable locations covered by their networks, reports that will be cross referenced with the fabric’s data.

A survey of ISPs conducted by Rick Yuzzi, marketing VP for Zcorum, pointed to the same conclusion, and more than fifty percent of respondents said their biggest challenge in the reporting process was either matching location addresses with the fabric’s dataset or outright FCC error.

Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, wrote this summer that Congress made a relatively high amount of error inevitable by requiring granular location-level mapping in the Broadband DATA Act – a position he reiterated at Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Wallsten, like Romano, however, argued that the challenge process will eventually correct many of the errors in the current fabric.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

State Broadband Officials Gear Up for Map Challenges as Some Still Concerned About Resources

Some state officials are concerned about county-level understaffing.



Photo at Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit in Washington on December 5, 2023.

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2023 — As U.S. states and territories put the final touches on Initial Proposals outlining how they will utilize $42.5 billion made available for broadband expansion through the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, state broadband offices are gearing up for what is expected to be a months-long challenge process ahead, said panelists at the Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit 2023.

While each of the 56 states and territories may determine their own preferred approach, each challenge process is required to include the following four phases: (1) publication of locations deemed eligible for BEAD funding; (2) a challenge process in which a unit of local government, a nonprofit organization, or a broadband service provider may submit refuting evidence; (3) the challenged service provider may rebut the reclassification of a location with evidence; and (4) states and territories determine of the final classification of the location.

Louisiana’s adjudication process is set to begin this Friday, and the state already has “160,000 unique location challenges,” said Thomas Tyler, deputy director of Connect Louisiana. The challenge process is projected to last until January 2024, when the state’s broadband office will make its final decision on eligible BEAD locations and submit its findings to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for approval.

Rick Gordon, director of the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, issued a warning to entities to do their due diligence when declaring locations to be served or unserved. “Once addresses are claimed as served, we don’t have the ability to go back and change that, so we have to be very careful,” Gordon said. For example, Maryland will allow an ISP with plans to deploy into an area to claim those addresses to be served, but only if a legally binding agreement with the state exists, which requires the ISP follow through on the agreement. The state projects its challenge process will last from February to May.

The panelists voiced concern over the vast range in different communities’ current understanding of the BEAD program, stating that broadband offices should air on the side of overcommunication with communities as they advance toward their challenge processes. “Some communities have lined up everything they need and are ready to apply for BEAD fairly soon. On the other end of the spectrum, we are working with some communities to bring them up to speed on what the definition of served and unserved is, and what they need to be doing now to challenge some of those things. It’s that range that concerns us,” said Brian Vo, chief investment officer at Connect Humanity.

This sentiment was echoed by Gordon, who detailed that some of Maryland’s county governments merely have part-time IT departments, while other counties have fully staffed GIS departments.

“We need to make sure that these more rural counties are just as equipped to handle the challenge process,” Vo assured.

The panel detailed challenges small or municipal internet service providers have faced in their pursuit of BEAD funding.

Initially, a letter of credit requirement deterred some smaller ISPs from participating in the program. That requirement was waived in early November, as the NTIA responded to public comment that this requirement would prevent the very type of service providers from participating, that BEAD was aiming to bolster.

The panel forewarned that service providers must also account for the fact that BEAD grants are taxable as income on both the state and federal level, which will largely affect the cost of projects. The federal government will tax the awarded grants at 15 percent.

Looking ahead, the panel agreed that BEAD will not connect 100 percent of the unserved, and called for the creation of a subgrant program to reach universal connectivity.

“We are going to need more capital, and new investment models,” voiced Vo. “Continued communication with regulation is critical.”

The session was moderated by Maria Curi, a reporter at Axios.

Editor’s note: A prior version of this story incorrectly noted the month that Louisiana’s challenge process will end. It will end in January, not May.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Robocalls, Rip and Replace, Pole Attachments: More Notes From the FCC Oversight Hearing

Commissioners and House lawmakers discussed key topics at a contentious hearing.



Screenshot of commissioners at the hearing Thursday.

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – All five Federal Communications Commissioners took part in a lengthy and at times contentious House oversight hearing on Thursday.

Commissioners urged Congress to restore the FCC’s authority to action spectrum, which expired in March and left the nation’s airwaves in limbo, and to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program, the low-income internet subsidy set to dry up in April of next year. 

GOP lawmakers FCC Republicans also took the chance to slam efforts by the commission’s Democratic majority.

The discussion touched on other issues including robocall prevention, rip and replace funding, and pole attachments.


The commission has been taking action on preventing robocalls this year, kicking off an inquiry into using artificial intelligence to detect fraud, blocking call traffic from 20 providers for lax enforcement policies and issuing hundreds of millions in fines. In August the commission also expanded the STIR/SHAKEN regime – a set of measures to confirm caller identities – to all providers who handle call traffic.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel asked multiple times for three Congressional actions she said would help the commission crack down on scam calls: a new definition for “autodialer,” the ability to collect fines, and access to Bank Secrecy Act information.

The Supreme Court limited the definition of autodialers in 2021 to devices that store or produce phone numbers with random or sequential number generators. That leaves the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which guides the FCC’s authority, “stuck in the nineties,” according to Rosenworcel.

“A lot of scam artists are using technologies no longer covered” by the act, she said. “We can’t go after them.”

On collecting robocall fines, that authority currently rests with the Department of Justice, and Rosenworcel is not the first to tell Congress the agency’s enforcement has been lax. Industry groups at an October Senate hearing cited slow DOJ action as a major reason FCC fines on the issue often go uncollected.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to keep records on certain transactions to help law enforcement agencies track money laundering and other criminal activity. The FCC cannot access information governed by the act, which Rosenworcel said would help the commission go after repeat scammers.

“These scam artists set up one company, we shut them down, they go and set another one up,” she said.

Rip and replace

Commissioners urged Congress to fund the rip and replace program. Congress allocated $1.9 billion to reimburse broadband companies for replacing network equipment from Chinese companies deemed to be national security threats, mainly Huawei and ZTE.

The FCC was tasked with overseeing the program and found in 2022 that another $3 billion would be needed to get the work done. The Biden administration joined a chorus of lawmakers and broadband companies in calling for Congress to fill the gap, but legislation on the issue has yet to be passed.

“We’re providing 40 cents on the dollar to a lot of small and rural carriers,” said Rosenworcel. “They need more funds to get the job done.”

The commission has been granting extensions to providers unable to get the work done on time. In addition to supply chain issues, some small providers cite a lack of funding as the reason they’re unable to replace insecure equipment.

Pole attachments

Commissioners expressed a willingness to shift some of the burden of utility pole replacements off of broadband providers as they attach new equipment.

“If a pole is getting replaced,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said, “there’s probably a role for the FCC to say that the pole owner should bear somewhere north of the cost of $0.”

The commission has authority in 26 states over most pole attachment deals between utility pole owners and telecommunications companies looking to expand their networks. The issue of who pays for poles that need to be replaced to accommodate more communications equipment is contentious, with telecoms arguing utilities force them to pay for replacing already junk poles. 

After spending years sifting through thousands of comments, commissioners have apparently been persuaded. Rules up for a vote at the commission’s December meeting would limit the scenarios in which utilities could pass full replacement costs on to attachers.

Broadband funding map

Rosenworcel repeatedly asked lawmakers to work with the commission on ensuring its broadband funding map is kept up to date.

The FCC launched its funding map in May to keep track of the myriad federal broadband subsidy efforts and avoid funding the same areas multiple times. The Department of Agriculture, the FCC, and the Treasury Department each oversee separate broadband funding programs, in addition to the Commerce Department’s upcoming $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort.

The commission has signed memoranda of understanding with those agencies on providing data for the funding map, but Rosenworcel asked the subcommittee for help ensuring the agencies follow through and respond to FCC requests for their funding data. 

“If you could help us make sure those other agencies respond to us with data, you’ll see where there are problems, duplication, areas we haven’t reached,” she said.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Connect20 Summit: Data-Driven Approach Needed for Digital Navigation

The NTIA’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt broadband.



WASHINGTON, November 20, 2023 – Better data about broadband adoption is necessary to closing the digital divide in the U.S., a broadband expert said during a panel at the Connect20 Summit here.

Speaking on a panel about “The Power of Navigation Services,” the expert, Jessica Dine of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said states lack comprehensive data on why some residents remain offline. This information is essential for digital navigator programs to succeed, she said.

She highlighted the need for standardized national metrics on digital literacy and inclusion, and said that federal surveys – including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey – provide insights on barriers to technology adoption. But more granular data is required.

She also said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt the internet. For instance, understanding the nuances behind the ‘not interested’ response category could unveil targeted intervention strategies.

In particular, Dine praised Louisiana and Delaware for surveying communities on their connectivity needs, including overlaying socio-economic indicators with broadband deployment data. But she said more work is required to quantify the precise challenges different populations face.

Other panelists at the session, including Michelle Thornton of the State University of New York at Oswego, emphasized the importance of tracking on-the-ground efforts by navigators themselves.

Bringing in her experience from the field of healthcare navigation, Thornton underscored the value of tracking navigator activities and outcomes. She suggested a collaborative model where state-level data collection is supplemented by detailed, community-level insights from digital navigators.

The panel was part of the Connect20 Summit held in Washington and organized by Network On, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Broadband Breakfast.

The session was moderated by Comcast’s Kate Allison, executive director of research and digital equity at Comcast.

To stay involved with the Digital Navigator movement, sign up at the Connect20 Summit.

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