Yesterday, the FCC announced that on November 18, 2022, it will release a “pre-production draft” of its widely anticipated broadband maps, which will contain granular information about existing broadband infrastructure and service availability in the U.S. The maps, which the FCC was required by law to develop, will be used by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) to distribute $42.5 billion in funding to states for allocation to service providers who will use it to construct additional broadband networks.
The federal government’s allocation of these funds is pursuant to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (“BEAD”) Program, which was established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”) in November 2021. Click here for our summary of the BEAD Program.
The FCC began this particular mapping initiative in August 2019. Doing so marked a departure from the agency’s prior mapping efforts, which had acknowledged gaps. The new initiative was informed in part by the March 2020 Broadband DATA Act, which required the FCC to collect granular data about geographic areas in which broadband infrastructure exists, as well as attributes such as download and upload speeds and latency.
To ensure accuracy and avoid over- or under-funding certain locations, the FCC incorporated a “challenge process” into its broadband map development, through which governmental entities, broadband service providers, and others are able to submit bulk challenges to the data that the FCC collected. The FCC believes that this process will help it refine its maps before subsequent versions are released.
On the same day as the FCC announcement, NTIA stated that it expects to announce each state’s BEAD allocation by June 30, 2023. NTIA encouraged the public to view January 13, 2023 as the date by which parties should submit challenges in time for the FCC to include corrections in the version of the map that will determine these allocation decisions. In announcing the June 2023 target date for allocations, NTIA provided some certainty to states eager to learn of their allocations and providers eager to compete for funding. Nevertheless, the challenge process between now and then likely will be robust with $42.5 billion at stake. It also bears mentioning that states will have to take additional steps to receive funding after the allocation announcements, so the date on which funds will begin to flow to providers remains to be determined.