BEAD Roundup: South Carolina and Washington State Open Challenge Portals

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2024 – South Carolina and Washington State began accepting challenges to government broadband coverage data on Monday, April 15, while Nebraska’s window closed on Sunday, April 14.

That makes 12 states that have finished the first step in ground-truthing that data ahead of awarding grants under the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. They’re in various stages of accepting and adjudicating provider rebuttals.

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.

Indiana and New York are also set to wrap up the first phase of their processes this week.

South Carolina – allocated $552 million

South Carolina’s challenge portal opened yesterday. 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 giving the same designation to locations connecting via fixed wireless broadband on cellular networks.  

The second of those 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 appears open to the move.

South Carolina expects 6,731 homes and businesses will be affected by the change. Providers can rebut the designation by demonstrating they have enough capacity to simultaneously serve at least 80 percent of the locations in their claimed coverage area. The threshold for that is 5 megabits per second per subscriber.

The state won’t be using the area or MDU – or multiple dwelling unit – challenge rules, which allow entire census block groups or apartment buildings to be challenged on the basis of a smaller percentage of their locations.

Washington – allocated $1.23 billion

Washington’s challenge portal also opened yesterday. The process was originally scheduled to kick off April 8, but was delayed because of a technical issue.

The state is also using the DSL modification, as well as the area and MDU 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.

Washington will be accepting challenges until May 14. Providers have 30 calendar days to rebut challenges with countervailing evidence, and the state is planning on accepting those until June 23, after which it will weigh evidence and make final adjudications.

Utah – allocated $317 million

Utah is set to start accepting challenges on April 18. It too is taking up the DSL modification 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.

Utah will be accepting challenges for 40 days, and providers will have 40 days after a challenge to submit rebuttals.

Nebraska – allocated $405 million

Nebraska’s challenge window closed yesterday April 14. The state did not take up any of the optional pre-challenge modifications laid out by the NTIA, but did adopt area and MDU challenge rules.

The state had received challenges to government coverage data for more than 11,600 homes and businesses as of April 11. More than 6,700 of those were the result of area challenges on the basis of availability, meaning they allege the reported service is not offered at those locations.

ISPs did make up the majority of the submitted challenges, but it’s not clear whether the area challenges were initiated by them or consumer advocates like county government and nonprofits.

Nebraska providers will also have 30 days to rebut challenges to their coverage.

California – allocated $1.86 billion

The California Public Utilities Commission is gearing up for its BEAD challenge process after receiving the go-ahead on its plan from the NTIA on April 4. The CPUC can adopt the proposal and move forward with its implementation as early as its next meeting on May 9.

California will also be taking up the DSL and CFWA modifications. CPUC expects the latter will potentially open up more than 66,000 locations across the state to BEAD funding. Like in South Carolina, providers can rebut the designation with evidence they have the capacity to handle 80 percent of the homes and businesses in their coverage area simultaneously.

The state will be hosting a webinar for providers and prospective challengers on April 24.

Idaho – allocated $583 million

Idaho awarded $500,000 in BEAD Regional Coordination and Planning grants on April 10. The state set aside that portion of its BEAD allocation to assist local governments in standing up broadband action teams that will engage communities in the challenge process, infrastructure planning, and more.

A total of 15 projects were funded across the state with awards ranging from $25,000 to $36,500.

Volume one of the state’s BEAD plan, which outlines the challenge process, was approved by the NTIA, but a start date has not been set yet. Idaho’s broadband office is planning on the process lasting approximately 120 days from start to finish, with a 28-day initial submission window.

Georgia – allocated $1.31 billion

Georgia extended its rebuttal window on April 10 after determining some locations had to be recoded. The state said locations challenged by ISPs on the basis that they already provide adequate service have been recoded for clarity.

Originally set for May 2, challenges at the recoded locations can be rebutted until May 9, while other challenges can be rebutted until May 5.

The recoded challenges number about 8,700 and were mostly filed by large providers like Comcast, Cox, and At&T.

The state’s challenge submission window wrapped up April 2.

Montana – allocated $629 million

Montana is hosting its BEAD bidders conference in Helena on April 17-18. The state encourages entities planning on applying for BEAD funds to attend

The state is also getting ready to accept applications to prequalify for BEAD. That window is set to be open for 45 days, and prequalifying will be necessary in order to apply for BEAD grants.

Montana finished accepting challenges on February 15, and providers had until March 15 to rebut those.