States have already submitted more than 300,000 location challenges since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened the door for them to request corrections to its new and improved broadband map. But as a deadline for availability challenges looms, some states said they’ve encountered issues with the submission process.
The FCC told Fierce that while individual challenges are visible on its broadband map interface, it is not reporting aggregate figures about the challenges it has received. So, Fierce reached out to more than 40 states to ask whether they had or planned to submit challenges to the map since the contest window opened last year. Using their responses and public reports about challenges, Fierce determined that at least 382,799 location challenges have been filed. States submitted at least an additional 30,600 availability challenges. But given there are dozens of other states unaccounted for, the real number could actually be far, far higher.
To set the stage, the FCC’s map is comprised of two layers of data: location information supplied by CostQuest and service availability metrics submitted by operators. States can seek to correct both, highlighting missing or misplaced locations or contesting overstated availability claims. These challenge processes run simultaneously on a staggered rolling basis.
An initial version of the location fabric was unveiled in September 2022, opening the door for challenges to begin. The FCC released an updated version of the fabric in December. A full version of the map which included availability data was released in November 2022, kicking off the availability challenge process. Those challenges must be submitted by January 13, 2023 to be incorporated into the second full version of the map which will be used by the government to calculate state allocations from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
It goes without saying that between the two layers, the FCC is sorting through a LOT of challenges. These include location challenges covering 31,798 addresses in New York, more than 13,000 in Colorado, at least 16,000 in Pennsylvania, 33,000 in South Carolina, 138,000 in West Virginia (which the Associated Press reported was also planning 40,000 more), 37,000 in Georgia, 60,000 in Louisiana, 7,000 in Wisconsin and 8,583 in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute indicated it also plans to submit an estimated 1,300-2,000 availability challenges by the January 13 deadline. Wisconsin similarly said it was planning to submit availability challenges but didn’t have a concrete figure to share.
An official from New Mexico's broadband office told Fierce it has submitted 38,418 location challenges since November 18 and 28,629 availability challenges.
A representative for Vermont’s Community Broadband Board told Fierce it was planning to submit 20-25 bulk challenges but could not say how many locations were included in those. A representative from Delaware’s Department of Technology and Innovation said it had “no significant challenges to report at this time.” Bree Maki, executive director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development, stated it didn’t have specific numbers to share because “we’ve encouraged local government units – as well as statewide residents, providers, organizations, and partners – to review the maps for accessibility accuracy and fabric accuracy.”
Virginia officials from the Department of Housing and Community Development's (DHCD) Office of Broadband told Fierce the agency will "challenge hundreds of thousands of locations that we believe are incorrectly reported as served in the FCC's map." However, it was unclear whether any of those challenges had already been filed.Meanwhile, Meghan Sandfoss, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Broadband Development, told Fierce her office was planning to challenge "over 12,000 locations on the FCC’s broadband map," but did not specify when those challenges would be filed.
Likewise, Senators from Nevada recently wrote in a letter to the FCC that the state's Office of Science, Innovation and Technology identified more than 20,000 locations on the map where coverage was misstated, but did not definitively say whether the office had filed challenges for those locations.
As states race to meet this week’s deadline, some told Fierce they’ve run into problems.
The representative from Vermont, for instance, said the state’s broadband team suffered a setback in compiling its challenges after the FCC released the second version of its location fabric last month. “The data is suddenly different as of Dec. 20 than what they have been working with all along, causing them to have to re-work all the challenges at the last minute,” the representative wrote in an email. “So, we’re having big problems with the bulk challenges we are trying to file before the deadline.”
Elsewhere, states which have contracted third-party vendors to create their own broadband maps are working through how to share data from their maps with the FCC. As a Congressional Research Service report from December noted, issues here revolve around contractual restrictions against data sharing and concerns about whether proprietary data shared by a state’s third party vendor might be used by the FCC’s vendor (CostQuest) for its own commercial purposes.
It seems Wyoming is one of several states caught in such a bind. Elaina Zempel, Broadband Director for the Wyoming Business Council, told Fierce “The State of Wyoming retained LightBox to conduct its mapping in preparation for the ARPA 604 funding. LightBox is currently in discussions with the FCC about how to share its data with FCC/Cost Quest and guide the data's usage.”
She concluded: “At this time, Wyoming will not be issuing a challenge, but may in the future.”
This story has been updated to add information about Kentucky, Virginia, Nevada and New Mexico. Last updated on January 17, 2023.