NTIA says BEAD allocations coming as FCC plots broadband map debut next week

The U.S. will get its first glimpse at a new broadband map from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) next week, more than two years after an act of Congress mandated its creation. But the FCC’s work on the project is far from done.

The FCC said in a press release its revamped broadband coverage map will be released on Friday, November 18. It will depict broadband availability accurate to June 30, 2022 based on coverage data submitted by operators earlier in the year.

But what’s shown on the map won’t be static for long. Publication of the map will kick off a public challenge process, enabling operators, individuals, governments and other interested parties to dispute reported coverage. These challenges will be incorporated into future iterations of the map.

Following the FCC announcement, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said it will announce state allocations from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program by June 30, 2023. The NTIA is required by law to use the FCC's new map to distribute BEAD money based on the number of unserved locations in each state. NTIA chief Alan Davidson previously said in September it planned to wait for the FCC to release the second version of its coverage map in 2023 before dishing out BEAD money.

The FCC has been collecting data from a separate challenge process connected to the map for two months already. The map is based on something called a location fabric, which was provided by CostQuest and is meant to depict all the serviceable locations in the country. That fabric is used by operators to report coverage on a location-by-location basis.

An initial version of the fabric was provided to operators earlier this year and serves as the foundation for the coverage map being released next week. But several parties have flagged inaccuracies in the fabric. Notably, the state of New York recently said it determined more than 31,000 locations were missing from the CostQuest fabric. CostQuest told Fierce that figure was within the expected margin of error for the first version of the fabric.

The FCC has been collecting challenges to the location fabric from operators and government entities since September 12. But once the map is published next week, individuals will also be allowed to challenge the fabric as well to request missing locations be added to the map.

“The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” Davidson said in a statement. “The FCC’s upcoming challenge process is one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps guiding us as we allocate major Internet for All awards in 2023.

An FCC representative told Fierce in September that the agency is planning to release a second iteration of the location fabric in December. This will serve as the basis for a second coverage data collection from service providers which will run from December 31, 2022 to March 1, 2023. The data will then be rolled into a second iteration of the coverage map which will be released next year.

This story has been updated with information about the NTIA's BEAD plans.