The Mapping Dilemma: How Can States Ensure They Get The Best 'Bang For Their Buck'?

Posted by John Sarkis on Apr 5, 2023 11:31:52 AM
Find me on:

States are developing strategies to allocate the funding they receive from the BEAD program, which has a total budget of $42.5 billion to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband in unserved rural areas. However, this is complicated by concerns about the accuracy of the FCC National Broadband Map. Although the federal map will serve as the basis for allocating funds to each state from the BEAD program, states have the liberty to decide whether they wish to use the federal map for dispensing funds to relevant recipients or use other methods that utilize internal data. 

Since its initial release last year, the FCC National Broadband Map has faced criticism from a variety of fronts, with complaints ranging from missing locations to doubts about the accuracy of the broadband availability data.

Most recently, many called for an extension of the challenge process to further amend the map before the states are allocated funds in June, although the general consensus concluded that the issues with it are unlikely to significantly impact state allocations.

However, once states receive their allocated money from the $42.5 billion, they will need to come up with a method for distributing their funds to counties and service providers in order to get the best ‘bang for their buck’. The accuracy of the data used for this is critical to ensure that the fewest possible underserved locations are overlooked. The severity of the issue is increased by doubts about the accuracy of the FCC's National Broadband Map, which has been called into question as a reliable tool for this next phase in the BEAD timeline.

State Maps

In response, several states have created their own broadband availability maps to complement or improve upon the FCC's data. Some examples of state maps that have done so include:

These states have recognized the importance of accurate broadband availability data and have developed maps to better inform decision-making related to broadband infrastructure and investment.

Maine is another state that has developed its own broadband availability map. In an interview with Telecompetitor, Andrew Butcher, President of the Maine Connectivity Authority, stated “If we have data that is more granular and in theory more accurate than just the FCC data, we can structure a challenging process around that data and our policies.”

The Speed Data Challenge

Another significant challenge posed by the FCC map is the lack of a mechanism to challenge location data where an internet service provider (ISP) claims to provide service, but the actual speeds fall short of what is advertised and shown on the federal map. As a result, consumers and other stakeholders may have limited recourse to challenge inaccurate data reported by ISPs.

In a past webinar, Evan Feinman, the director of the NTIA's Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, pointed out that states have the opportunity to address shortcomings such as inaccurate speeds in the FCC National Broadband Map themselves. 

Feinman explained that  “communities will be able to bring forward large numbers of speed tests” which could help address concerns about the accuracy of service provider-reported availability data. 

Through the use of broadband speed tests and the collection of internal data, states have the ability to construct a more precise map of broadband coverage within their borders than the FCC's national map. 

Identifying inaccuracies and gaps in broadband coverage to improve the coverage data can also be shared with internet service providers and other stakeholders to identify areas that need improvement and plan their network expansion accordingly. 

What's Next?

The upcoming phase of the BEAD timeline will force states to decide whether or not they will use the FCC's national map or their own mapping data for distributing broadband funds -or a mix of both. This decision will have major implications for resource allocation and infrastructure development in the United States.

The contrast in mapping approaches poses a challenge for the federal government in ensuring an equitable distribution of funds. The choice of mapping data will surely impact the allocation of resources and the effectiveness of broadband development in underserved communities.

States have some time to decide on the mapping option to pursue since it’s unlikely that any allocations from the states will occur before 2024. It is crucial that states carefully evaluate the strengths and limitations of each option to make the best decision for their constituents' long-term benefit.

 Read more about how ATS can help your local maps before the next round of BEAD. 

Topics: Broadband, BEAD, Broadband Mapping