Deadline nears to correct Colorado’s terrible broadband service map

Barry Goldberg, who lives in Bayfield, jumped at the opportunity to tell the federal government how terribly slow his internet was, at 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. But after searching for his home address on the new preliminary national broadband map, his southwestern Colorado neighborhood didn’t even show up. Instead, a virtual pin stuck in an empty gray area showed “No location data.” 

Other Colorado residents shared their confusion with challenging the map devised by the Federal Communications Commission because it showed some technologies that weren’t actually available, providers who denied them service or services that were just too expensive for their budgets. One man said the site didn’t recognize his email so he couldn’t challenge the accuracy of the map.

According to the preliminary national broadband map, Colorado is well served with high-speed internet service. If you disagree, you can challenge your home’s service at broadbandmap.fcc.gov. (Screenshot)

It took Karen Tourian several more steps to challenge the map’s accuracy that has her home at 100% mobile internet coverage. 

“I’d have to walk about an eighth of a mile from my house where there’s a spot that on good days, I can get service on my cellphone,” said Tourian, who lives 8 miles west of Boulder surrounded by hills, likely the cause of what’s making it difficult for faster internet to manifest. “Apparently without service, the app doesn’t work other than showing me the speed test failed.”

There are just days left for people to submit challenges to the proposed new map, which will determine how much of a $42.5 billion pot of federal money each state will receive to invest in broadband infrastructure. The Colorado Broadband Office, which had challenged 13,000 locations last month, plans to submit more by the Jan. 13 deadline. A request to extend the deadline was denied.

“We hope to submit more availability challenges before the 13th, but we are still gathering data and evidence,” Brandy Reitter, the broadband office’s executive director, said in an email. “We have sent several communications to our partners around the state. This includes leaders of counties, cities, school districts, community anchor institutions (libraries, etc.), broadband nonprofit and advocacy groups and other state agencies. We asked them to spread the word about the importance of challenging the map and how to do so.” 

Two broadband towers stand in front of a mountain range.
Cell phone and rural broadband towers in Alamosa County, Colorado with the Sangre de Cristos in distance on Jan. 22, 2021. (John McEvoy Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado, like all states, wants the data to be as accurate as possible to maximize their share. Estimates show Colorado could receive $400 million to $700 million that would go pretty far in connecting the households where distance, terrain or lack of financial viability caused internet companies to bypass them. Unserved households are defined as those with no access to 100/20 Mbps internet service, which is different from the past. The old FCC guideline was 25/3 Mbps. 

The new funding was made possible by last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which set aside $65 billion for broadband programs. The largest program — the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, or BEAD — is what the current frenzy is about. BEAD will provide every state $100 million. The rest of the billions will be allocated based on the unserved locations in the broadband map.

And if people can’t challenge inaccuracies in the map, that’s a problem. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet joined 25 U.S. senators just before Christmas in a letter urging FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to make sure the broadband map reliably shows who has service and who does not. 

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet gives a victory speech, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at the Art Hotel in Denver. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“We recognize that these steps will require more work now in ensuring all serviceable locations are represented,” reads the letter. “But these processes must not be short-cut or millions of Americans in need of broadband risk being short-changed.” 

Bennet has a special interest in BEAD. In 2021, he authored the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act, aka the BRIDGE Act,  which is what BEAD is based on. It encouraged gigabit technology and faster speeds of at least 100 Mbps. It required internet providers to offer at least one affordable option. And it gave the authority to states and local governments to choose where their money should go.

“The BEAD program is an iteration of the BRIDGE Act (in that) it gives money to states,” said Vivek Chilukuri, Bennet’s Deputy Chief of Staff. “It’s not being run out of Washington in the sense that FCC or the NTIA are deciding which projects go where. States are deciding that. And they have a lot of flexibility on how to use the funding — do they want to build networks, do they want to focus on affordability programs? Communities have a stronger incentive to spend the money well.”

Chilukuri said that the FCC hasn’t communicated some of the information very well, including deadlines. So Bennet’s office is doing what it can to make sure state broadband offices are able to get their questions answered and get all their challenges in.

“I think there’s a balance between getting the money out as soon as possible and making sure that the funding is as accurate as possible in terms of reflecting the number of actual unserved homes and locations in a state,” Chilukuri said. “You could, in theory, perfect this map for another five years but communities also don’t want to wait five years for the affordable, high-speed broadband they require in the 21st century.”

At this point though, affordability can’t be challenged. That’s what Goldberg, who lives near Bayfield, discovered.

His home actually was on the map — but about one-third mile north of where the map had pinned the address he typed in. It also showed his neighborhood as served, thanks to 100 Mbps service from Starlink, the satellite broadband service founded by celebrity entrepreneur Elon Musk. But service from Starlink, which charges $110 a month plus $599 for installation, isn’t available at his location yet. 

The map also showed another local internet provider, the locally owned AlignTec, which offers speeds up to 50/25 Mbps for $130 a month. Goldberg can still challenge the map, both because the location is inaccurate and because the service is not yet available.

But the competition is too costly for him. He said he pays about $45 a month for the 10/1 Mbps from CenturyLink.

“We were really disappointed when the local company put in lines at the local tower but they wanted more money than what we were paying for CenturyLink,” Goldberg said. “They’re private and local. They’re good people from what our neighbors say. But we can’t pay that much.”

Challenging the map

The Colorado Broadband Office eagerly accepted the challenge to challenge the national map and by early December, just weeks after the map was released, it had submitted 13,000 challenges. 

Most were bulk challenges, where internet service to underserved or unserved areas was suspect. The office also reached out to several communities — from Gypsum and Eagle along the Interstate 70 corridor to Crestone in the south and Peetz and Wray in the northeast.

But to really get at every unserved household, Coloradans should submit the challenge themselves, either online or on a mobile device. 

“The high level of evidence required at the individual level makes it difficult for entities like the CBO to submit effective bulk challenges, so we rely on consumers to submit challenges for their homes and businesses,” Reitter said.

If available internet service to your home is less than 100 Mbps, check the new national broadband map to see if your address is showing your household as unserved or underserved. If it’s not, press the pin on your location and hit the “Challenge Location” button to file a challenge with the Federal Communications Commission by Jan. 13, 2023. (Provided by FCC)

Not everything can be challenged and this isn’t a tool to file random complaints against an internet service provider. 

But challenges can be made for a number of reasons, including if a listed provider denied service to the household, the technology reported wasn’t available or the speeds were slower than reported. Mobile broadband service can also be challenged using the FCC speed test app.

A resident from Granby Ranch who questioned the process said he’s a Starlink user but only because his local cable provider wanted to charge $30,000 to install service to his home. That can be challenged on availability and by picking the “Provider requested more than the standard installation fee to connect this location” option in the map submission.

The Federal Communications Commission provides guidance to users who want to challenge a location or broadband service availability of an address at broadbandmap.fcc.gov. To make a challenge, the user must fill out a form with their name and email, reasons for the challenge and any additional evidence. (Provided by FCC)

Here is the list of what can be challenged.

Also, check the accuracy of the email and street address before pressing submit. Typing in “Street” when the FCC database has “St.” means it may not find the address.

While the broadband office plans to continue submitting challenges to correct the national map, it won’t earn the state additional BEAD funds for challenges made after Jan. 13.

As of Dec. 30, 42,000 locations in Colorado were challenged, Reitter said. The state should know the outcomes of those challenges around mid-May. The FCC will announce the BEAD allocations on June. 30.

“However, we are still showing significant discrepancies between our data and the FCC,” she said. “We don’t know what the outcome is yet for the broadband availability challenge process or any changes to the deadlines. We are tracking the conversations at the national level.”


How to challenge the broadband map: 

Two challenges can be made: location and availability. If the home or business is not on the map, the location should be challenged. If service details are incorrect, challenge the availability.

  1. To make a challenge, visit broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home and type in your address before Jan. 13.
  2. If there is no dot on your address, drop a pin on the map, click Location Challenge, fill out the form with the correct information, and click submit. (Watch video)
  3. If the information about the broadband service available needs to be corrected, click Availability Challenge, fill out the form, and click submit. (Watch video)

After the submission is received, the FCC sends a confirmation email with an ID number and notes that the challenged location will have a blue circle around it. To view the challenged location, turn on the “Challenges” layer in the map.

Internet providers have 60 days to provide counter evidence about speed accuracy and service availability.

Provided by the Colorado Broadband Office