ACA Connects to NTIA: Maps Before Broadband Equity Money

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(Image credit: Tim Robberts/Getty Images)

Smaller and mid-sized cable/broadband operators are telling the Biden Administration not to hand out billions of dollars in broadband subsidies to the states until there are better broadband deployment maps, and when they do hand it out, to make sure it goes to unserved areas first.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has sought comment on the rules for its Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD), comprising $42.45 billion to states to develop their own broadband plans and to build out infrastructure and promote adoption in unserved and underserved communities.

In a letter to NTIA chief Alan Davidson, ACA Connects President Matt Polka said that "accurate, location-based" maps are key and that while the FCC appears to be on track to produce its first take on a location-based map later this year, or early 2023, that map won't be sufficiently accurate, he said, because it will be based on "a Broadband Fabric created by an FCC vendor and the filings of broadband providers," both sets of unverified information for which the FCC will need to allow some time for a challenge process.

Also: White House Issues State Guide to Broadband Billions

"In sum," said Polka, "NTIA has little choice but to wait for sufficiently accurate maps
before determining the proper final allocation of grant funds to States. At most, based on the initial, granular but inaccurate maps, the NTIA could distribute a partial amount of funds – an amount that does not require any clawbacks."

As to prioritizing unserved areas, Polka points out that that is the law and one NTIA needs to follow. "To that end," said Polka, "states should first award deployment grants in areas where more than 80% of the locations are unserved, then, if funding remains, where more than 80% of the locations are unserved and underserved, and then, if funding remains, to connect community anchor institutions."

Wherever and to whomever the money goes, Polka told Davidson, NTIA needs to make sure recipients can deliver the requisite service in the required time frame, and added that "When it comes to building and operating broadband networks, there is no substitute for expertise and experience and sound financial backing." ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.