BEAD Roundup: Seven More Challenge Portals Open

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2024 – Seven more states have started accepting challenges to broadband coverage data as part of the BEAD program since April 16. That brings the number of open challenge processes to 10, with 18 states in varying stages of accepting provider rebuttals and adjudicating evidence.

It’s the first step in getting broadband expansion projects funded under the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. Four states have received the go-ahead to award subgrants for those projects, which will happen later this year.

The Federal Communications Commission’s coverage map, which has an ongoing challenge process of its own, is based on provider-reported data and was used to determine relative need and allocate program funds, but was not considered accurate enough to determine which individual homes and businesses lack broadband for the purposes of BEAD.

States and territories will have the chance to incorporate updates from the latest version of the FCC map both before and after their challenge processes.

Per the process laid out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, challenges can be submitted by nonprofits, local and Tribal governments and internet service providers. Some states have so far struggled to engage nonprofits and local governments, with broadband offices reporting that the majority of challenges tend to come from ISPs who have existing plans to build in unserved areas.

New Mexico – allocated $675 million

New Mexico’s challenge portal opened April 18. The state is taking up optional modifications to the NTIA’s model process: presumptively marking homes and businesses served by old DSL lines as “underserved” – and thus eligible for BEAD-funded infrastructure – and accepting sufficiently rigorous speed test data as challenge evidence. Both proved popular, with approved volume ones showing at least 40 states opting for the DSL modification and at least 42 accepting speed tests.

In another widely popular move, the state is also taking up the area and MDU – or multiple dwelling unit – challenge rules.

Under those rules, at least three units in an MDU of 25 or more units must be challenged in order to make the whole building eligible for BEAD in the absence of a valid provider rebuttal. Smaller buildings require only one or two units. The threshold for census blocks is six locations.

That’s an update from the agency’s previous MDU guidance that should reduce the burden on challengers, especially in larger buildings. The original guidelines required 10 percent of a building’s units to be challenged.

New Mexico will be accepting challenges until May 18, a one-day extension from the planned end date because of technical issues. Providers will have from May 27 to June 26 to submit rebuttals, and the state plans to weigh evidence for another 30 days after that until August 26.

North Dakota – allocated $130 million

North Dakota’s challenge portal also opened on April 18. The state is also opting into the DSL, speed test, and area/MDU modifications.

Challengers will have until May 19 to submit challenges, after which providers will have another 30 days to turn in countervailing evidence. That will be followed by another 30 day adjudication phase planned to end on July 18. The state’s initial counts based on FCC data show nearly 9,000 locations with access to internet below the BEAD 100 * 20 Mbps eligibility threshold.

Oregon – allocated $689 million 

Oregon’s challenge portal opened on April 22. The state will be accepting speed tests as evidence and using area, but not MDU, challenge rules. That makes Oregon unique, as the more than 40 other states that have adopted area challenge rules also took up MDU rules.

The challenge window will be open until May 22, followed by a 30 day rebuttal period. The broadband office will make final determinations within 60 days of a rebuttal closing. Oregon’s initial counts show more than 73,000 eligible homes and businesses, with more than 11,000 of those being unserved – places prioritized by the program because of excessively slow or nonexistent broadband.

Pennsylvania – allocated $1.16 billion

Pennsylvania’s challenge portal opened April 24. The state will just be taking up the NTIA’s speed test module.

The portal will be open for 30 days, after which providers will be able to submit rebuttals for another 30 days. Pennsylvania’s broadband office will review evidence and sustain or reject challenges within 30 days of the rebuttal period closing, putting the end date in mid-July. 

The state’s initial counts, updated March 4, put the total eligible locations at more than 286,000, with more than 234,000 of those being unserved.

Maine – allocated $272 million

Maine’s challenge portal opened on April 26. The state is taking up the DSL and speed test modifications, as well as using FCC map challenges to trigger area challenges. If FCC challenge data shows at least six locations in a census block group or at least 30 locations in a census tract challenging the same provider’s service, that provider will have to prove their reported coverage is accurate for the entire block group or tract to avoid those areas becoming BEAD-eligible.

The state is also marking as underserved locations receiving fixed wireless broadband via cellular networks. That was at first a departure from BEAD rules, as fixed wireless on licensed spectrum is considered adequate broadband for the purposes of the program, but enough states flagged issues with the reliability of excess cell network capacity that the NTIA is open to the move. Maine expects a just over 1,000 locations will be affected by this change

Maine is also adopting area and MDU challenge rules. 

The challenge portal will be open for 25 days. Rebuttals and adjudication will occur on a rolling basis, with providers having a 25-day window after a challenge is submitted to turn in a rebuttal and the broadband office planning to make determinations within 25 days of a rebuttal. The state is planning to wrap the process up by July 22. 

Initial data shows more than 75,000 BEAD-eligible locations in the state, with 35,000 being unserved.

Wisconsin – allocated $1.06 billion

Wisconsin’s challenge portal opened on April 29. The state is taking up the DSL, speed test, and area/MDU modifications. The state also used crowdsourced speed test data to preemptively trigger area challenges in census block groups where speed tests are sufficiently suggestive of service below 100 * 20 Mbps.

The challenge window will be open until May 29, but challengers should make submissions before May 19 in order to have an opportunity to resubmit if additional information is needed. The rebuttal submission window will last from June 6 to July 6, and the Wisconsin broadband office is planning to make determinations by August 6. 

Utah – allocated $317 million

Utah’s challenge portal opened on April 18. It too is taking up the DSL and speed test modifications, as well as the area and MDU challenge rules.

The state has been crowdsourcing speed tests from residents since February 6 in an effort to refine its coverage map ahead of accepting challenges. Those speed tests have to meet certain methodological standards consistent with the NTIA’s guidelines for speed challenges.

The state’s initial counts show more than 63,000 eligible homes and businesses, with more than 43,000 unserved.

Utah will be accepting challenges for 40 days, and providers will have 40 days after a challenge to submit rebuttals. The Utah Broadband Office will make final decisions within 30 days of receiving a rebuttal.