Congressional Research Service Report Cites Challenges for FCC Broadband Map Effort

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(Image credit: Stephouse Networks)

Congressional Research Service, which provides such service to members of Congress, has outlined a host of potential issues with the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband mapping process and the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, and made some suggestions of what Congress may have to do in response.

In an “In Focus” report on the impact of the FCC’s National Broadband Map on BEAD and its $42.5 billion dollars in broadband subsidies, CRS said that among the issues for states and smaller internet service providers are contractual obligations, the resources to challenge the FCC map, and the number of challenges already filed, and potential lawsuits.

The FCC recognizes that the map, a draft of which was released to the public, is an iterative process and sought input on where it might miss the mark on where broadband is and isn't.

The FCC has already received “thousands” of challenges from individuals, according to chair Jessica Rosenworcel.

Also: FCC Launches New Broadband Map

According to CRS, contractual issues involve states' use of data vendors, which may hinder their ability to challenge the FCC's map because if they have leased data they want to use to challenge, there may be use restrictions. “Thus, states may not end up challenging the National Broadband Map — or if they do challenge, they may violate their contract and face legal jeopardy,” CRS said, citing Montana Department of Administration chief data officer Adam Carpenter.

Carpenter also said some of those vendors may be concerned that the third-party vendor the FCC employed to help it come up with the map's location fabric could use that data for their own commercial purposes.

The resource challenge was illustrated by New York state’s October submission of over 31,000 unserved or underserved addresses that the map had not accurately identified. New York clearly had the resources to ferret those out, but CRS points out that other states don’t have such deep pockets. New Mexico, for example, signaled it did not have the staff to fix its map problems by January 2023. Without those fixes, it said, it could miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy money.

Among CRS’s suggestions for congressional actions are hearings, potentially mandating an extension to the challenge process, and seeking comment on its eventual resolution of challenges.

The FCC has signaled it wants to resolve map challenges by early 2023 so NTIA can meet its June 2023 timeline for handing out subsidy money to states. NTIA has asked states and territories to submit their challenges by January 13, 2023. 

A bipartisan group of legislators has already reached out to the FCC and NTIA asking for that challenge extension.

The senators want the FCC to extend the deadline for challenges by “at least” 60 days — to March 14, 2023. ■

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.