Vermont to Start BEAD Challenge Process

Four other states are accepting challenges and three more are planning to begin the process soon.

Vermont to Start BEAD Challenge Process
Photo of foliage in Rutland, Vermont by Zdenek Svoboda

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2024 – The Vermont Community Broadband Board announced Monday it will kick off the state’s BEAD challenge process on March 18.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program allocates $42.5 billion among states and territories to fund broadband expansion in areas that lack adequate connectivity. They submitted proposals for implementing the program to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration last year and the agency is in the process of reviewing and approving those plans.

Vermont’s challenge process can begin because the Commerce Department approved the first volume of its proposal, which details how the state will accept and process claims of incorrect broadband coverage data before funding projects with its nearly $229 million BEAD allocation.

That’s a mandatory first step states and territories must take before awarding grants under the program. The Federal Communications Commission’s coverage map, which has an ongoing challenge process of its own, was used to determine relative need and allocate program funds, but is not considered accurate enough to determine which individual homes and businesses lack broadband for the purposes of BEAD. States and territories will have the chance to incorporate updates from the latest version of the FCC map both before and after their processes.

In total, 25 states and territories have received approval on the first volume of those proposals, according to the NTIA’s tracker, giving them the green light to refine broadband data ahead of awarding grants under the program.

Four of those states – Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, and Nevada – are currently accepting challenges to broadband coverage data. Arizona, Nebraska and New York are gearing up to begin their processes in the coming days.

Seven more states have finished accepting challenges and are at various stages of accepting and adjudicating ISP rebuttals. 

Vermont’s process

Like all other states, Vermont is basing its challenge process on a model laid out by the NTIA. 

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.

States have so far struggled to engage nonprofits and local governments, with broadband offices reporting that the majority of challenges tend to come from ISPs who have existing plans to build in unserved areas.

Vermont is making modifications to the NTIA model process. In a departure from default BEAD rules, the state will presumptively mark fixed wireless broadband on cellular networks as “underserved,” and thus eligible to get BEAD-funded infrastructure, regardless of the speeds available. 

The agency nixed a similar plan from Ohio, as fixed wireless is considered adequate technology for the purposes of BEAD. Vermont’s argument that its heavy tree canopy and the volatile capacity of wireless networks create inconsistent 5G home broadband was convincing enough for the measure to survive NTIA edits.

The state expects 503 locations that would otherwise have been considered “served” to be open to BEAD as a result of the change, according to its approved Volume One.

Vermont is also taking up optional modifications laid out by the NTIA. Vermont will be marking all locations served only by copper DSL as underserved in an effort to phase out older technology for the fiber cable favored by BEAD. More than 30 states are planning on doing the same, according to their proposals.

In another NTIA option, the state is allowing 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. These two options also proved popular among states, with only 7 opting out.

Eligible organizations will be able to submit challenges to the Vermont Community Broadband Board until April 1. The full process is slated to wrap up in June, with a two-week rebuttal period and just over seven weeks set aside for final decisions and data deduplication.

Popular Tags