WASHINGTON, February 1, 2024 – State broadband authorities said Wednesday that they have received less engagement from local stakeholders in the challenge process for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, but are actively working on rectifying the hurdles related to challenges.
These hurdles include the task of educating local governments and nonprofits about the importance of active participation, along with ensuring early responses from these challengers, according to eight state broadband officers who convened for the Wednesday Broadband Breakfast Live Online event.
“We did not have a lot of nonprofits or local governments participate,” reported Jade Piros de Carvalho, director of the Kansas Office of Broadband Development. Despite conducting 30 distinct outreach initiatives with local governments and the provider community, only four counties, one Native government, and two nonprofits ultimately submitted challenges to the state mapping fabric. The state is now in a 14-day rebuttal phase, scheduled to conclude on February 9.
Currently halfway through its 30-day challenge submission period, Delaware has garnered less than 100 challenges, with “very few” coming from nonprofits. Roddy Flynn, the executive director of the Delaware Broadband Office, anticipates the state will see a jump in participation in the final days of its challenge process, drawing parallels to the experience of the Kansas broadband office, where the final 24 to 36 hours resulted in five times as many challenges as the preceding 28 to 29 days combined.
In Kansas, the most common reason for rejection was that the challenger did not provide location specific evidence demonstrating that the qualified service was available. Those who initiated challenges early were given the chance to submit additional evidence based on the state’s feedback. However, many providers waited until the final day and missed the opportunity to do so.
Flynn and Piros de Carvalho stressed the importance of ISPs, nonprofits, and local and Tribal governments submitting challenges to state’s mapping fabric early in the challenge process, saying this allows state broadband offices additional time to rectify any errors in the submissions.
Flynn emphasized the need for extensive one-on-one coaching, based on his experience. To align nonprofits and local governments, he recommends a personalized approach before expecting participation, stating, even after conducting numerous webinars and meetings nationwide, the information might not fully resonate because these entities have myriad priorities.
Tom Reid, president and founder of the Reid Consulting Group, voiced shared concerns about the complexity of the process, echoed by those actively involved in it. He emphasized the challenges from a consumer advocacy perspective, noting a lack of engagement from government councils due to the process’ intricate nature. Reid said the challenge process is tending to be more representative of ISPs as a consequence.
Other state broadband officials present shared that they are waiting with baited breath for approval of their Volume One BEAD plans to embark on their challenge processes. In the meantime, these broadband authorities are actively engaging in public outreach campaigns, utilizing various methods such as mass emails, targeted one-on-one phone calls, and everything in between.
Indiana and Georgia’s broadband authorities both submitted their Volume One BEAD plans in early November, and are still awaiting approval.
“I’m going to be optimistic and say we’re hoping for as many challenges as possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a limited amount of challenges from the local government units and nonprofits,” said Lela Sibley, communications manager at the Indiana Broadband Office.
Indiana has tentatively announced its challenge process will begin on March 4. The state is hosting two webinars next week on how to use the state’s challenge submission software, and will also hold office hours at the end of February.
Georgia Technology Authority’s Director Jessica Simmons echoed, “We’ve done as much engagement as we possibly can so that when we actually do have the green light to go ahead and open our process, we’re ready to hit the ground running.”
Simmons mentioned that the state revised the deadline for providers to report planned service, extending it to December 31, 2025. This affords providers a longer timeframe to notify the state about any networks they intend to build out. Many broadband officers observed that this is the most common type of challenge they are receiving.
In response to a question posed by moderator Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast CEO, the state officials said they have not observed internet service providers submitting challenges “in bad faith,” although Piros de Carvalho said some challenges from ISPs have appeared defensive in nature. In Kansas, the SBO received just under 2,000 challenges, encompassing 277,000 locations. Of this total, one provider, who seemingly misunderstood the assignment, submitted over 84 percent—amounting to 234,000 of the total challenges.
The state officials raised concern over certain addresses that were omitted from the original mapping fabric. Presently, the prevailing message coming from the program’s governing body, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is if a location is not on the initial mapping fabric, it is out of luck of being represented in the challenge process at all.
“That’s a disappointing outcome and really undermines the goal of the [challenge process],” said Flynn. “We’re hoping for some new guidance from [NTIA] at some point about how to work with these addresses that are found during deployment.”
State officials expressed concerns related to NTIA approving their Volume Two BEAD plans before their challenge processes conclude.
“If Volume Two gets approved during the middle of the challenge process, all of a sudden my 365-day shot clock to implement subgrantee selection starts, and I don’t have the list of locations yet. Every state is going to need every single one of those 365 days to get through its subgrantee selection process,” said Eric Frederick, chief connectivity officer for the state of Michigan. “That is going to be an issue for us, and I’m certain for other states too.”
Gregory Conte, director of the Texas Broadband Development Office, echoed this sentiment, saying the state is in “no rush“ to get their Volume Two plan approved. Conte has expressed concern directly to the NTIA about the feasibility of the 365-day timeline to select subgrantees.
The Texas SBO is currently overseeing the allocation of $5.5 billion dedicated to broadband expansion throughout the state, including a $300 million delta from American Rescue Plan funds, $1.5 billion recently authorized by the Texas legislature, and $3.3 billion allocated to the state through the BEAD program.
Conte said – as the state awaits ongoing feedback from NTIA – its primary objectives are carefully assessing locations to ensure there is no duplication of funding, and determining the appropriate and responsible utilization of these resources.
Meanwhile, the stage causing the greatest concern for director of the California Public Utilities Commission, Robert Osborn, is the phase following the 365-day subgrantee process. Newby said this stage involves negotiations about how to get the remaining funds awarded, saying the process will be time-consuming and require a significant amount of “hand-holding”. It remains a significant unknown factor in the process.
“There seems to be a lot of emphasis on getting [Volume One] done, getting it approved, and getting it out the door, but that is not the strategy of every state,” said Piros de Carvalho, highlighting that state broadband officials are juggling the implementation of multiple broadband funding programs at once.
Brian Newby, the director of North Dakota’s State Broadband Office, highlighted the advantages of being in the middle of the pack, saying states that find themselves further back in NTIA’s queue may experience significant benefits, as the process is expected to become more streamlined and it allows them to glean insights from the states that preceded them.
The state broadband officials commended the work NTIA is doing, acknowledging the current workload faced by the agency.
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Wednesday, January 31, 2024 – Broadband Mapping and BEAD Challenges
Many state broadband offices are about to begin their broadband mapping challenges under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program. This is a process for states to verify locations that are unserved (i.e., they lack access to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) * 3 Mbps broadband), and locations that are underserved (i.e., they lack access to 100 Mbps * 20 Mbps broadband). A few advanced states have already begun, or have already completed the process. What have they learned? What “challenges” are they facing? What’s next for broadband mapping?
Interested in the topics covered by the January 31, 2024, Broadband Breakfast Live Online event? The Broadband Measurement Summit on March 7, 2024, will accelerate discussions about the role of mapping, measurement and BEAD.
- Lela Sibley, Communications Manager, Indiana Broadband Office
- Gregory Conte, Director, Texas Broadband Development Office
- Robert Osborn, Director, Communications Division, California Public Utilities Commission
- Brian Newby, Director, North Dakota Broadband Program Director
- Jade Piros de Carvalho, Director of the Kansas Office of Broadband Development
- Roddy Flynn, Executive Director, Delaware Broadband Office
- Eric Frederick, Michigan Broadband Director
- Jessica Simmons, Georgia Broadband Director
- Tom Reid, President and Founder, Reid Consulting Group
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
- Kansas Begins BEAD Challenge Process, Broadband Breakfast, December 18, 2023
- NTIA Approves Delaware Initial Proposal, Volume 1, Broadband Breakfast, January 4, 2024
- Colorado to Begin BEAD Challenge Process Next Week, Broadband Breakfast, January 5, 2024
- Illinois, Indiana and Georgia Announce Plans for BEAD Challenges, Broadband Breakfast, January 22, 2024
- Washington State Looking to Start BEAD Challenge Process in April, January 25, 2024
Lela Sibley is the Communications Manager for the Indiana Broadband Office. Born and raised in Indiana, she is passionate about serving her fellow Hoosiers. She is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington with two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science.
Gregory Conte serves as the Broadband Development Office director. He has worked at the Texas Comptroller’s office since 2016, most recently serving as manager of the Data Analysis and Transparency Division. Conte, a U.S. military veteran, earned Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Affairs degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He has filled key management roles at the agency in areas responsible for supporting local government transparency, economic development and health care.
Robert Osborn is director of Communications Division California Public Utilities Commission. He represents the Commission in interactions with public, stakeholder groups, and various government agencies. He also oversees the development and implementation of statewide policies, including the administration of over $3 billion for broadband deployment under the Governor’s Broadband For All Initiative.
Brian Newby leads the North Dakota State Broadband Office, targeting broadband for all in North Dakota by administering more than $175 million in federal grants. Formerly served as the State Election Director at the North Dakota Secretary of State; previously was the Executive Director for U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal government agency, and Election Commissioner for Johnson County, the largest jurisdiction in Kansas and in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Before elections, worked as director of strategy for Sprint’s $10 billion Global Markets Group.
Jade Piros de Carvalho is director of the Kansas Office of Broadband Development since June 2022. In less than a year, her successes include the award to the Kansas Department of Commerce of a $43 million grant by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to support an $87 million Middle Mile broadband project. Until earlier this year, she was the mayor of Hutchinson, the 11th largest city in the state, with a population of more than 40,000. She was previously the director of industry and community relations for the independent rural internet service provider Ideatek.
Roddy Flynn is executive director of Delaware Broadband Office. Prior to this role, he served as the Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Appointed by the White House, Flynn led congressional affairs for the Internet for All initiative which is tasked with implementing the $48 billion high-speed Internet expansion portions of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Eric Frederick serves as the State of Michigan’s first Chief Connectivity Officer. In this role, Mr. Frederick leads the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) with the goals of achieving universal broadband access and creating a more digitally equitable state. Mr. Frederick is a state and community broadband policy and planning expert and a sought-after speaker on broadband and technology issues with experience working with local to international stakeholders to improve the access, adoption, and use of broadband.
Jessica Simmons serves as Deputy CIO and Executive Director of the Georgia Broadband Program at the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA). Since joining GTA in 2021, she has facilitated over $650 million in grant awards for broadband expansion in Georgia.
Tom Reid, President, and founder of Reid Consulting Group (RCG) has nearly 40 years of experience in the technology sector. His experience is extensive, advising both public and private-industry clients on strategic planning, technology architecture, competitive bidding, and project management. For fifteen years RCG has been in the forefront of broadband expansion, building deep experience in stakeholder engagement, GIS mapping, engineering, and statistical analysis. RCG’s rigorous, multi-source mapping methodology can identify the true extent of broadband need in any region, providing a strong basis for state and federal investment.
Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.