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NTIA OKs Virginia’s Broadband Plan, Commonwealth Launches BEAD Challenge Process

It is the second state to start ground-truthing broadband data as part of the $42.5 billion program under IIJA.



WASHINGTON, November 1, 2023 – Virginia on Wednesday became the second state in the nation to begin its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program challenge process, kicking off the process one week after approval of its plan by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The move marks the next step forward in the $42.5 billion federal effort to expand broadband access. Many states are still in the process of submitting initial proposals for administering their grant programs, ahead of the December 27 deadline.

“Our goal is to ensure that every unserved and underserved home, business, and community anchor institution is included in the BEAD program,“ said Dr. Tamarah Holmes, director of the Office of Broadband within Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We eagerly anticipate collaborating with local governments, non-profits, and community anchor institutions during the 30-day challenge window and the subsequent review process to address all broadband access gaps,” she said.

Virginia continues the momentum of other leading state broadband offices, including Louisiana, the first state to begin its challenge process under BEAD on October 6.

Virginia’s challenge process is being carried out through partnership with Virginia Tech Center for Geospatial Information Technology to provide the challenge process portal, and Ready, which is supporting Virginia’s challenge effort with its public map and speed test portal. Ready also offers a Challenge Process Coordinator as part of a software platform to assist leading state broadband offices in being data-driven, scalable and compliant throughout their broadband programs.

A requirement to accept challenges

BEAD rules under the November 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act require states to accept and process challenges to broadband availability data before awarding grants under the program. The Federal Communications Commission coverage map that states will use as a starting point is based largely on provider-reported data, which is not considered accurate enough to determine which locations – that is, individual businesses and housing units – have adequate internet access.

The program prioritizes areas marked as “unserved” – those with access to speeds of 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed– for subsidized infrastructure projects, followed by ‘underserved’ areas – those with less than 100 * 20 Mbps.

Virginia has identified 134,221 unserved and 27,806 underserved locations eligible to get broadband with BEAD-funded infrastructure, based on data from the FCC National Broadband Map and previous federal and state funding programs. It will use those numbers as a baseline as it begins processing challenges.

Virginia has in fact identified more than 400,000 locations that are unserved and underserved, but which are already including a state- or federally-funded project area. Such areas are ineligible for funding and are hence removed from the 162,107 “pre-challenge” locations at issue in Virginia’s process.

Adopting NTIA’s model challenge process

Virginia adopted the NTIA’s model challenge process, a template the agency put together for states to expedite the proposal approval process. The process is slated to last 90 days, ending in Virginia on January 30, 2024. The state will be accepting challenges for the first 30 days, until November 30, followed by rebuttal and adjudication phases of the same length.

Challenges in the state can allege that current data on things like the internet speed, technology type, latency, and data caps available at a location is inaccurate. They can only be submitted by nonprofits, municipal governments, and internet service providers, meaning eligible challengers must source evidence of these inaccuracies from their communities or, in the case of providers, internal plans and network management systems.

That evidence can broadly come in the form of provider documents or communications with information on service and equipment or, in the case of latency, speed tests showing an excessive delay in network communications.

Virginia is making use of two optional modifications the NTIA laid out: area challenges and MDU, or multiple dwelling unit, challenges. Under these rules, if six locations in a census block group or 10 percent of the units in an apartment building challenge the same provider’s technology or coverage, the provider must provide evidence that they serve the entire block group or building as reported in government data.

Requirement of enforceable commitments for broadband

The state is also more stringent than the NTIA model on providers claiming to have plans in place to serve BEAD-eligible areas. If a provider submits a challenge to Virginia claiming they are – independent of BEAD – planning to get broadband to certain unserved homes and businesses, the state will require them to enter into an enforceable commitment before marking those locations as served.

Most states are adopting the NTIA’s model process in full, with almost every state basing their process heavily in it. Some states are accepting other forms of evidence, like speed tests measuring network capacity, and making other optional modifications, like marking service from certain technologies as underserved by default.

Providers in Virginia will have 30 days from the notification of a challenge to rebut challenges. The state will then weigh evidence and make determinations on its final broadband map by January 30.

Virginia has already submitted the second volume of its initial proposal, detailing how it plans to award BEAD grants based on that map, to the NTIA. It is one of only two states to have done so, with the other being Louisiana. Virginia will have one year from the approval of that proposal to spend all $1.7 billion of its allocation.

Reporter Jake Neenan, who covers broadband infrastructure and broadband funding, is a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. Previously, he reported on state prison conditions in New York and Massachusetts. He is also a devoted cat parent.

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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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Broadband Mapping & Data

House Subcommittee Witnesses Disagree on AI for Broadband Maps

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday on using AI to enhance communication networks.



Screenshot of Nicole Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, at the hearing Tuesday.

WASHINGTON, November 14, 2023 – Experts disagreed on the potential for artificial intelligence to aid broadband mapping efforts at a House hearing on Tuesday.

Courtney Lang, a vice president at tech industry trade group ITI, said AI could be used to improve the quality of current broadband maps.

A machine learning model could do that by using past data to identify buildings that are likely to be accurately marked as having adequate broadband, according to Lang.

“It’s a really interesting use case,” she said.

Broadband mapping is a difficult task. The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband map is on its third version, undergoing revisions as consumers submit challenges to provider-reported broadband coverage data. The Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program requires states to administer a similar ground-truthing process before allocating any of that cash.

But Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, urged caution.

“We have to be careful that we might not have enough data,” she said.

In rural parts of the country, data can be sparse and low-quality. Both factors would make machine learning ill-suited to the task of flagging potential inaccuracies, according to Lee.

She urged lawmakers to exercise restraint when using AI for “critical government functions,” like the broadband maps used to determine where federal grant money will go.

The witnesses spoke at a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on using AI to enhance American communication networks.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC is Looking to Update its Definition of Broadband

The commission would increase its standard to 100 * 20 Mbps.



Photo of a person using an internet speed test from

WASHINGTON, November 2, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is looking to increase its definition of broadband internet speed, the agency announced on Wednesday.

The current definition, set in 2015, requires speeds of 25 megabits per second – Mbps – download and 1 Mbps upload for internet service to be considered broadband, or simply high-speed internet. The agency is seeking comment on increasing that to 100 * 20 Mbps, it said in a notice of inquiry.

“During the pandemic and even before it, the needs of internet users surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 standard for broadband. This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low- income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, a $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort set off with the 2021 Infrastructure Act, already has a benchmark of 100 * 20 Mbps. Areas with access to speeds lower than this will be eligible to get broadband upgrades with BEAD-funded infrastructure, and those with access to anything less than 25 * 3 Mbps are given special priority.

The FCC will also take comments on setting a significantly higher long-term goal: 1 Gbps * 500 Mbps. 

In addition to revamping the commission’s speed benchmarks, the inquiry will also look to evaluate the state of broadband availability in the U.S., looking at broadband deployment, affordability, adoption, and equitable access. The commission is required to do this annually by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

It will be the first of these evaluations, the NOI notes, to use the commission’s Broadband Data Collection data. Part of the 2020 Broadband DATA Act, the BDC database has more precise information on broadband availability in the U.S., and the commission is seeking comment on how best to refresh its standards and frameworks in light of the better data.

Comments are due by December 1, with reply comments due December 18.

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