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How the FCC National Broadband Map Impacts the BEAD Program, Part 3 of 3: Meeting the Urgent Need

NTIA is preparing to enter a crucial phase for the Internet for All initiative. Soon, we will notify states and territories of their BEAD program allocation amounts. Once we’ve made those notifications, states and territories will have 180 days to submit their initial proposals. We are confident we will have the data we need to take that step when we make our allocation announcement by June 30. 

NTIA has seen the work of states, territories, Tribes, municipalities, nonprofits, Internet service providers, individuals, and other stakeholders across the country who have engaged with the FCC map and provided input to ensure a better picture of Internet availability. Recent data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggests that process is working.  

Mapping Basics

The map has two components:

  1. The Fabric: a dataset of all locations where home Internet service could be installed.
  2. Availability Data: a dataset that shows whether Internet service is, in fact, available at the locations.

To understand the impact of the challenge process and additional work that the FCC and its vendor CostQuest have been doing to improve the map, we can analyze the change in broadband serviceable locations between version 1 and version 2 of the Fabric. As the FCC notes, the number of serviceable locations between version 1 and version 2 increased from 113 million locations to about 114 million locations, which accounts for a less than 1% net increase in the total number of broadband serviceable locations across the country.  Note that, as the FCC’s blog further clarifies, this net change reflected both additions and subtractions from the fabric—the FCC added nearly three million locations while removing nearly two million for reasons ranging from updated data to the use of more sophisticated tools to identify and remove structures like garages and sheds. 

This tells us three things: 

  1. The changes between version 1 and version 2 of the Fabric were relatively modest, and we can expect that changes between future versions of the FCC map will likely continue to be modest. 

  1. These modest changes go both ways. States, territories, and the District of Columbia (“Eligible Entities”) could gain or lose locations from version to version.  

  1. If the changes to the total number of BSLs is modest—and at less than 1% they were—then it is likely that the impact on the allocation is modest, because the key variable in the BEAD allocation formula is the number of unserved locations in a state or territory relative to the total number of unserved locations nationwide. 

As discussed in our previous blogs, the FCC designed its National Broadband Map to be iterative, and it will continue to evolve even after we announce the BEAD program allocations because connectivity is ever evolving. We will have updated versions of the Fabric and updated provider-reported availability data every six months, and a steady drumbeat of updates to availability as the FCC resolves challenges to its National Broadband Map. And, as described in part 2, states and territories, with input from eligible stakeholders, will have the ability to make more precise decisions about the locations they will fund using not just the FCC National Broadband Map, but also other sources reflecting the availability of Internet service. 

It is also important to keep in mind that the BEAD program is the largest piece—but not the only piece—states and territories can use to solve their high-speed Internet puzzle. We expect every Eligible Entity to braid and blend other federal and state broadband funding programs to meet the overarching goal of the BEAD program.  To help support this effort, NTIA has assigned a Federal Program Officer to each Eligible Entity to help them navigate NTIA’s programs and support them in identifying other opportunities for funding across the Federal government.  

Of course, how Eligible Entities spend the money will matter too, and we’ve given states and territories significant flexibility in determining which projects will ultimately receive support. For example, Eligible Entities will be responsible for setting an Extremely High Cost Per Location Threshold, which allows states to husband BEAD funds by selecting more affordable deployment technologies to serve their most expensive locations. 

Right now, with BEAD and Digital Equity planning grants from NTIA, states and territories are putting together holistic plans to achieve universal connectivity that combine funding from federal and state funding streams and private investment. 

States and local governments, individuals throughout the country, digital inclusion groups and others have stepped up to help improve the FCC National Broadband Map. Through these efforts, we are confident that the FCC National Broadband Map will provide the data we need to take the next step and meet the President’s goal of connecting every community in America with high-speed Internet service.