WASHINGTON, December 22, 2022 – As Georgia works to challenge more than 200,000 locations missing from the national broadband map’s location fabric, the state’s congressional delegation sent a letter Wednesday urging federal officials to extend the time allotted for challenges before the map is used to divide $42.5 billion dollars in broadband funding.
The bipartisan delegation, led by Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Rep. Rick Allen, said Georgia officials believe as many as 220,000 un- and underserved locations in the state could be missing from the map. Georgia’s broadband director, Joshua Hildebrandt, told Broadband Breakfast on Thursday that his state will within days submit 167,000 location challenges and plans to submit tens of thousands more in early January 2023.
Under current guidance from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the overseer of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, stakeholders should submit location and availability challenges by January 13, 2023, to ensure their data are processed before BEAD allocations are calculated. The map was released in November, leaving less than two months – punctuated by holidays – for challenge submissions, the letter noted.
The NTIA has said BEAD allocations will be announced by June 30, 2023. If the map’s data underrepresent unserved locations in Georgia, its BEAD grant will likely shrink. The letter asked the NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission to extend the January and June BEAD deadlines by at least 60 days to allow more time for corrections.
“We are in receipt of the letter and are reviewing it,” an NTIA spokesperson told Broadband Breakfast. “NTIA is committed to balancing the urgency of the moment with the need for an accurate map for funding allocation.”
Broadband Breakfast contacted the FCC for comment, and the agency did not respond to Broadband Breakfast’s request.
Senators ask FCC to diligently correct maps
Also on Wednesday, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators urged the FCC to address the map’s inaccuracies “in a systemic and thorough matter.” Led by Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., the senators advocated the commission take steps to ameliorate alleged overreporting of service availability by providers and advocated increasing the frequency of map updates, which are currently scheduled biannually.
“A more granular map will be of little use if there is little confidence in the results and if providers are not accountable for reporting accurately,” they wrote. “We encourage you therefore to work with stakeholders of all kinds to make sure that all serviceable locations are in fact represented on the map, such as by making it relatively simple for adjustments to be made to the (location) Fabric.”
Some states can’t yet challenge the fabric
The State of Texas has not issued location challenges due to its contract with state mapping vendor LightBox, Texas Public Radio reported Tuesday.
At a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event in October, Adam Carpenter, chief data officer of the Montana, another LightBox partner, explained the problem. The FCC’s agreement with CostQuest Associates, the federal vendor that created the fabric, allows CostQuest to use challenge data submitted to the FCC in its commercial products – which runs afoul of LightBox’s contractual protections of its own proprietary data.
“It is a concern, but I’m not sure how you address that concern,” James Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest, told the audience at Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference in November. “It is not necessarily the FCC’s issue – it’s really those third parties who present issues to the states.”
A senior LightBox executive recently told Broadband Breakfast that the company has met with the FCC to address the issue.
LightBox is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated to reflect the fact that the FCC did not respond to Broadband Breakfast’s request for comment.