By: Hailey Farrow, Marketing Manager & Zac Byrd, Marketing Associate, on behalf of CostQuest Associates
As part of NTIA’s BEAD program, the BEAD Challenge Process is where each Eligible Entity (states, territories, and D.C.) will conduct a challenge process to confirm locations eligible for BEAD funding. Each Eligible Entity must outline how they will conduct their challenge process in their Initial Proposal to NTIA. After submission of the Initial Proposal, and approval of the proposed challenge process, is when each Eligible Entity’s BEAD Challenge Process will take place.
It’s important to note that the BEAD Challenge Process and the FCC’s Challenge Process are separate processes and not the same thing.
The NTIA’s BEAD Challenge Process and the FCC’s Challenge Process for the Broadband Data Collection program are working to solve the same underlying goal: provide reliable, high-speed broadband services to all Americans regardless of their location.
However, these processes diverge their focus as they work towards different objectives within the same overarching goal. The BEAD Challenge Process has an emphasis on reviewing and ensuring the accuracy of the statewide coverage data as to whether a particular location or community anchor institution is unserved or underserved and eligible for BEAD funds, while the FCC’s BDC Challenge Process is geared towards identifying Broadband Serviceable Locations (location structures) and gathering ISP’s internet coverage information across the U.S.
Now let’s dive deeper into these two programs’ key requirements and differences.
FCC Challenge Process vs. BEAD Challenge Process. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
The NTIA’s BEAD Challenge Process
The overall purpose of the BEAD Challenge Process is to allow local government, nonprofits, and service providers to supply their input on whether a location lacks high-speed internet access and is eligible for BEAD funding.
Data in the FCC’s National Broadband Map was the starting point for BEAD funding allocations and will be used for an Eligible Entity’s Challenge Process. Eligible Entities will use the data from the National Broadband Map to determine and confirm if the locations listed are, in fact, ‘served,’ ‘unserved,’ or ‘underserved’ to identify locations eligible for BEAD funds.
Eligible Entities are required to disclose a detailed plan of how they will conduct their BEAD Challenge Processes in their Initial Proposals. As described in NTIA’s BEAD NOFO:
“Each Eligible Entity shall develop and describe in the Initial Proposal a transparent, evidence-based, fair, and expeditious challenge process under which a unit of local government, nonprofit organization, or broadband service provider can challenge a determination made by the Eligible Entity in the Initial Proposal as to whether a particular location or community anchor institution within the jurisdiction of the Eligible Entity is eligible for grant funds.”
Eligible Entities have the discretion to facilitate challenges related to various aspects of broadband, including availability, speed, latency, presence of data caps, and technology types. This allows for a comprehensive evaluation of the broadband coverage landscape, enabling Eligible Entities to address potential gaps and limitations.
Roles of the NTIA & Eligible Entities for the BEAD Challenge Process
The BEAD Challenge Process outlined in the Initial Proposal will be reviewed by the NTIA and returned if the required standards are not reached.
As stated in NTIA’s BEAD NOFO, they “may modify the challenge process proposed by the Eligible Entity as necessary and shall inform the Eligible Entity of any modifications required. Once an Eligible Entity makes any required modifications, the NITA shall approve the challenge process, either in conjunction with or prior to the approval of the Eligible Entity’s Initial Proposal.”
“The Eligible Entity shall conduct the approved challenge process before allocating grant funds received from BEAD for the deployment of broadband networks to subgrantees.”
Below is a timeline of how the remaining BEAD phases will roll out to give you a high-level visualization of where the Initial Proposal and Challenge Process phases fit in:
BEAD Timeline. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
BEAD Challenge Process Sequence of Events
To get more granular on the steps that will be taken for the BEAD Challenge Process, listed below is the guidance NTIA gave in their “Introduction to the Challenge Process Webinar” on the eleven steps that Eligible Entities and NTIA will perform related to the Challenge Process.
1. Eligible Entity Develops Initial Proposal Volume I
During this step, “Eligible Entities will consult with their Federal Program Officers (FPOs) to identify unserved and underserved locations using the National Broadband Map, identify eligible CAIs, and develop a transparent, evidence-based, fair, and expeditious challenge process that includes their proposed pre-challenge process location modifications (e.g., the proposed deduplication process). Prior to submitting to NTIA, the Initial Proposal must be made available for public comment for no less than 30 days. Eligible Entities must conduct outreach and engagement activities to encourage feedback and include a description of comments received and how they were incorporated.”
2. Eligible Entity Submits Initial Proposal Volume I (submitting Vol I before Vol II is optional)
3. Eligible Entity Submits Full Initial Proposal (Volume I and Volume II)
4. NTIA Reviews and Approves or Disapproves Initial Proposal Volume I
5. Eligible Entities Run Approved Modifications and Deduplication of Funding Process
6. Eligible Entities Run the Approved Challenge Process
7. Eligible Entity Runs Another Deduplication of Funding Process
8. Eligible Entities Submit Challenge Results to NTIA
10. NTIA Communicates Determination to Eligible Entities
11. Eligible Entities Publish Final Determinations
Location Data Requirements
Per NTIA’s BEAD NOFO, each Eligible Entity must use the data in the FCC’s Broadband Maps to fulfill requirement five of the Initial Proposal.
“Initial Proposal Requirement 5: Identify each unserved location and underserved location under the jurisdiction of the Eligible Entity, including unserved and underserved locations in applicable Tribal Lands, using the most recently published Broadband DATA Maps as of the date of submission of the Initial Proposal, and identify the date of publication of the Broadband DATA Maps used for such identification.”
To meet NOFO Requirement #5 Eligible Entities must:
- Use the most recently published* National Broadband Map to identify BEAD-eligible locations.
- Include the publication date of the map used.
- Identify and classify unserved and underserved locations.
- Submit in the form of CSV files.
Pre-Challenge Process Modifications
Eligible Entities must complete two components in the Pre-Challenge Process Modifications section.
1. De-duplication of Funds Process: Remove locations that are subject to enforceable commitments to provide qualifying broadband service.
2. Data Modifications: Propose modifications to the list of BEAD-eligible locations in order to reflect data not present in the FCC’s National Broadband Map.
Pre-Challenge process modifications for eligible BEAD locations. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
BEAD Challenge Process Design Requirements
Each Eligible Entity’s Challenge Process must include the following 4 phases:
BEAD Design Requirements. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
Eligible Challengers for the BEAD Challenge Process
Units of local government, nonprofit organizations, and broadband service providers.
Types of Eligible Challenges
Listed below are the allowable challenge types for the BEAD Challenge Process:
Eligible Challenges for BEAD. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
Eligible Entities must distinguish what types of challenges are allowable and which are not. Listed below are the allowable and unallowable challenges:
Allowable & Unallowable Challenges for BEAD. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
It should be noted that the BEAD funding allocation announcement from June 26th is final, and the Challenge Process will not change the allocation amount.
It’s important also to note that Eligible Entities are not able to add or remove locations from the National Broadband Map data. As mentioned previously, the FCC has its own challenge process that is described in greater detail later in this article on how to challenge the National Broadband Map’s data.
Eligible Entities will be the ones running the BEAD Challenges Processes. See the graphic below for more role details:
The role of States, Territories, and the NTIA. From the NTIA Webinar Deck.
About the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection Challenge Process
The Broadband Data Collection (BDC) Challenge Process is a system created by the FCC for service providers, government entities, and other parties to file bulk or individual challenges to the data within the National Broadband Map and Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric. The accuracy of broadband service availability and underlying location data is improved through two challenge processes: one for locations in the Fabric and another for the availability data that is provided by service providers.
The BDC Fabric Challenge Process for Fabric Version 3 was opened on July 3, 2023, and entities are encouraged to submit their challenges before September 8th to be incorporated into Version 4 of the Fabric. “Bulk Fabric challenges submitted after September 8, 2023, will continue to be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis, but would likely be adjudicated as part of a future version of the Fabric” (Public Notice).
Types of BDC Challenges
There are two types of Challenges in the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection Program:
Bulk Challenges: Challenges to multiple locations on the service availability data or Fabric location database. These challenges will be directly filed into the BDC system and must meet the format of the applicable data specifications.
Individual Challenge: Challenges to a single location on the service availability data or the Fabric location database. These challenges are accepted directly through the National Broadband Map’s interface.
According to the FCC’s BDC Challenge Process Overview, Fabric challenges dispute the accuracy of the location data included in the Fabric. These challenges can include:
- A location that meets the Commission’s definition of a Broadband Serviceable Location is missing in the Fabric.
- A location’s broadband serviceability is incorrectly identified.
- Information about a location is incorrect in the Fabric (e.g., the address or unit count for the location is incorrect).
- The location’s placement (i.e., geographic coordinates) is incorrect.
BDC Provider Service Availability Challenges
Eligible Entities have the option to submit bulk or individual challenges on the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services at specific locations. These challenges contribute to the assessment of availability data, which encompasses a detailed compilation of location-specific information on broadband services.
Location-specific details are obtained from a network of 2,500 fixed broadband service providers, along with standardized mobile broadband availability data. By leveraging this extensive network, a comprehensive understanding of broadband availability can be obtained at a granular, location-by-location level.
“Challengers may dispute the availability of fixed broadband service at a particular location or set of locations, including the network technology and maximum advertised download and upload speed reported by the provider” (BDC Challenge Process Overview).
These challenges can also include:
- The reported service is not offered or is the reported speed not available for purchase.
- The provider denied a request for service or demanded connection charges that exceeded its standard installation charge.
- The provider failed to schedule or perform an installation within 10 business days of a request.
Roles of CostQuest and the FCC in the BDC Challenge Process
All challenges that are posed through the BDC Challenge Process will be reviewed and accepted by the FCC.
The accepted Fabric Challenge Data submitted through the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection Challenge Process is added to the Fabric and made available to ALL entities to download and use. The Challenge data is added to the Fabric to improve its accuracy, but again it is not recorded or removed from the BSL without the official adjudication of the FCC.
The FCC provides CostQuest with certain rights to the accepted corrections in Fabric challenge submissions for the purpose of improving or otherwise modifying the Fabric data for the BDC and National Broadband Map programs. Broadband service providers, governmental entities, and other third parties can license the Fabric dataset at no cost for purposes of participating in the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection efforts.
Be sure to check out the resources below for more granular information on the BEAD Challenge Process, Initial Proposals, and the FCC’s BDC Challenge Process.
This communication does not reflect the opinion or the policy of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) & the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The NTIA & FCC are not responsible for the information or views in this communication and is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of such information or views.