The NTIA this week proposed new guidance for its $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, aiming to help states implement their challenge processes and better identify unserved and underserved locations.

As defined by the NTIA, a challenge process is when a “unit of local government, nonprofit organization, or broadband service provider” can dispute an Eligible Entity's (ie. a state or territory's) decision on whether a location is eligible for BEAD funds, including whether a location is unserved or underserved. The state challenge process is distinct from the challenge process currently being run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update its broadband map. 

The draft guidance, which is open for public comment until May 5, expands upon the NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) issued last May and outlines design requirements for the BEAD challenge process.

Specifically, the NTIA said the challenge process for each location must include four phases: publication of eligible locations, the challenge itself, a rebuttal from the challenged ISP and the Eligible Entity’s final determination, which either sustains or rejects the challenge.

States must complete the entire challenge process within 90 days, as well as allow at least two weeks for challenge and rebuttal submissions. Final location classifications must be published at least 60 days before states can allocate grant funds for network deployment.

The proposed guidance also includes information on how the NTIA will classify locations in the FCC’s national broadband map, which is what the agency will use to calculate state allocations. The NTIA expects to announce those allocations by June 30.

Proposals from entities may not add or remove broadband serviceable locations from the FCC’s map, said the NTIA. However, entities can modify a location’s designation as served, underserved or unserved to reflect data not present in the national broadband map.

For example, an entity can propose a location primarily served by DSL is underserved “to facilitate the phase-out of legacy copper facilities and ensure the delivery of ‘future-proof' broadband service.” The current iteration of the FCC map classifies DSL locations as “served.”

Furthermore, states and territories can propose a location considered served by the FCC is actually underserved if they use “rigorous speed test methodologies” to demonstrate that location receives service below 100/20 Mbps. But the NTIA won’t change its existing definitions of “unserved” and “underserved.”

To mitigate potential funding duplication, the NTIA said it will offer BEAD applicants a planning toolkit that, among other things, will overlay multiple data sources to “capture federal, state and local enforceable commitments.”

More information on the toolkit will be released at a later date. For now, the NTIA published a model, consisting of various spreadsheet templates, that entities can use to meet the requirements of a state challenge.