FCC updates national broadband map to resolve 4M challenges

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its second iteration of the national broadband map that provides availability data for stakeholders working to expand high-speed internet access across the U.S.

The updated map -- which will be used to decide each state’s allocation from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program -- reflects coverage data submitted by providers as of December 31, 2022 in addition to about 4 million challenges from consumers, states, localities and Tribes contesting that data.

Over 75% of those challenges have already been resolved, resulting in a net increase of 1 million broadband serviceable locations -- about 3 million added and 2 million removed for reasons ranging from updated data to picking out structures like garages and sheds.

The new map shows that more than 8.3 million U.S. homes and businesses lack access to high-speed broadband (nearly 330,000 unserved locations more than the first version, or a 0.2% increase).

Late last year the FCC developed its first location-based broadband map using new tools to identify every household and small business in the country that should have access to high-speed internet service. FCC Chairwoman Jessican Rosenworcel said that map was “light years better than preceding maps because it no longer relied on census block-level reporting.”

The FCC with its first location-based map identified over 114 million locations where fixed broadband could be installed, compared to data from just 8.1 million census blocks in prior maps. 

Still, local officials involved in broadband expansion efforts have made complaints about the accuracy of the first edition of that map.

“Even though the November 2022 broadband map was the most accurate to date, it was also only a starting point. We called it a pre-production draft, because it had not been subjected to challenges,” Rosenworcel said in a statement today. 

She added these challenges are an important part of the process of building better and iterative maps under the Broadband DATA Act.   

The FCC's challenge process is as follows: Upon receiving a challenge, a provider has a 60-day period to either accept or contest it. In the event of acceptance, the map is revised within two weeks to accurately represent the concession. If the provider decides to contest the challenges, both the provider and challenger are granted 60 days to reach a mutual agreement.

Alternatively, if a consensus cannot be reached within this timeframe, the FCC intervenes to resolve the dispute by either affirming or nullifying the data presented by the provider, although no specific timeline was provided for the commission's decision-making process in such cases.

Rosenworcel said the FCC will continue to release a major update to the map twice a year, and in addition to those major bi-annual updates will make “minor updates to the availability data in the map regularly for most of 2023” to reflect both challenge outcomes and any corrections providers make to their filings.  

NTIA on track for late-June BEAD allocations

The National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), which will be administering BEAD funding, released its own statement calling the latest version of the map “the most accurate depiction of broadband availability in the FCC’s history.”

However, the overall national story “remains consistent,” the NTIA said. “From version 1 to version 2 of the FCC’s map, the percentage of unserved locations nationwide increased by 0.2 percentage points.”

The new version of the map, in addition to the FCC’s ongoing work to resolve availability challenges, will be used as the basis for the state allocations for the BEAD program. The NTIA said it is on track to announce those allocations by June 30th.  

While the number of unserved locations in the FCC’s National Broadband Map will be used in the allocation, the NTIA said it will not be a 1:1 correlation to final BEAD funding, and recommended states refer to its Allocation of Funds blog for more information about how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law directs NTIA to make allocations.

“NTIA is confident that with this data as a baseline, we will be able to effectively allocate funds by the end of June,” the agency said. “We will continue to monitor the FCC’s updates to availability data to ensure that we make a well-informed allocation of these vital funds.”