Washington State Looking to Start BEAD Challenge Process in April

The state is still waiting on a green light from the NTIA, but expects approval 'very soon.'

Washington State Looking to Start BEAD Challenge Process in April
Photo of Mount St. Helens by Larry Syverson

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2024 – Washington State is planning to start accepting challenges to connectivity data for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program on April 8, the state’s broadband office said on Wednesday.

The exact date could change, as the state is still waiting for approval from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on its proposal for administering the challenge process.

But Tracey Blackburn, an NTIA federal program officer, said she expects that approval to come “very soon,” with minimal edits from the agency.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’s BEAD program makes $42.5 billion available to states and territories to expand broadband infrastructure, of which Washington was allocated $1.2 billion.

The Federal Communications Commission’s map, updated through its own challenge process, was used to determine relative need and make state-level allocations, but states are required to field challenges on a local level to get a more accurate picture of which homes and businesses lack adequate internet access.

Washington’s process is tentatively slated to wrap up on July 27, with 30 days each for challenge submission, provider rebuttals, and final determinations by the broadband office.

Challenges can allege that current data on things like the internet speed, technology type, latency, and data caps available at a location are 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.

The state is holding a webinar on February 1 to prepare eligible challengers. Non-ISP challengers will need a Tier E license from CostQuest, the company that manages the FCC’s broadband map data.

Washington is also planning to make modifications to the model challenge process set out by the NTIA. It is looking to accept as evidence speed tests that meet certain methodological standards. Those tests would have to be conducted on three separate days.

Also in the state’s draft plan are the optional area and MDU, or multiple dwelling unit, challenges laid out by the NTIA. 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. If the provider does not, the entire area or building can be marked as un- or underserved.

Those provisions proved popular, with at least 40 states signaling intent to use them in their draft plans.