States can officially start submitting funding requests for their broadband expansion needs starting May 16 when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) plans to release a funding opportunity, said NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson.

“This is the starting gun. Those notices will lay out how the programs will be built and how people can participate,” Davidson said at an April 21 Brookings Institution webinar.

States will immediately be able to submit letters of intent after NTIA releases its notice of funding opportunity for its digital equity program, the broadband equity access and deployment program (BEAD), and middle-mile broadband infrastructure program. NTIA also plans to encourage states to submit these letters so they can receive their $5 million in planning grants – as part of the BEAD program – quickly, Davidson explained.

However, states’ five-year broadband plans – a requirement of the BEAD program – could hit immediate roadblocks. Those plans are dependent on identifying which areas are unserved and underserved by broadband, as measured on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maps that have been delayed for years. And the completion of those plans relies heavily on the accuracy and completion of those maps.

The FCC was tasked with putting together more accurate broadband maps to guide the $48 billion allocated for broadband deployment grants in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Historically FCC’s broadband maps haven’t “been as good as we’d like them to be,” Davidson said.

“But the good news is that the FCC is currently working to produce much better maps. NTIA is waiting until there’s good mapping data to make sure we’re making these decisions properly,” he added.

In the meantime, Davidson said states could utilize NTIA’s broadband maps in place of the new maps that the FCC is working on. In addition, some states already have ongoing mapping efforts, and those maps “often have a robust sense of local broadband coverage,” he said.

“We hope that in working with local communities or working with the mapping data that’s available, states can begin their planning,” Davidson said. “Then, when we have the final maps, we’ll be able to make those final determinations about allocations and ultimately where to deploy.”

Beginning this fall, states will be able to see the first iterations of the FCC’s data collection for its new maps.

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