The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has opened a 25-day window for existing broadband service providers to “challenge” Round 2 Comprehensive Community Infrastructure (CCI) broadband stimulus applications. Responses are due May 10, 2010. (This 25-day response period is 10 days longer than NTIA had previously announced.)

The process is substantially different from round 1. NTIA has published a single master list of the 65,536 census tracts and block groups covered by at least one application. (The list is available here.) The list does not identify which applicants have applied for which areas. It also does not indicate whether the application is for a middle-mile or last-mile project (even if it did, note that in this round an application listed as “middle mile” in the database can include a substantial last mile component).

This voluntary process is potentially less consequential than in the first round, because an applicant is no longer disqualified if the area is not underserved. Nonetheless, the response remains the only invited means for an existing service provider to attempt to rebut an applicant’s assertion that the area is unserved or underserved, or to otherwise affect the scoring of an application.

Any party offering broadband in any of the areas may submit a single response using an Excel template provided by NTIA. This template requires that the provider submit data separately for each census tract or block group, which is different from the last round in which responses were provided for entire proposed funded service areas. Responses must include information on the number of total homes, homes passed and subscribers within each area. This change will make it more obvious if an existing service provider does not report data from each census area separately, since NTIA will be able to compare the number of homes that are reported by the provider with census information for that area.

Unlike the last round, it is not necessary to break down subscriber data by tier of service, but some general information on tier pricing is required. Providers are also invited to provide information on the company’s points of presence (e.g., central offices, Internet gateways, and headends) and middle-mile services. This data is optional, but such a showing may dissuade NTIA from providing funding in the area. In this round, NTIA does not require the submission of advertisements or the use of the mapping tool.

The list of census areas only supplies the area’s Federal Information Processing Standard code identification number: an 11-digit code indicates a census tract, and a twelfth digit identifies a block group within a tract. The first two digits identify the state, the next three are the county, the next six are the census tract, and the last digit is the block group. Note that the six-digit tract code assumes that the tract is in the format of NNNN.NN. If a tract does not have two digits after the decimal place, such as “tract 1,” its six-digit code would be 000100. For example, the first two codes in NTIA’s list are:

01001020100

010010201001

The second code is a block group within the first tract. NTIA may be asking for both areas separately because there may be two applications for the area, with one applicant seeking to serve the whole tract while another applicant may only be seeking to serve only block group 1 within that tract. In the example above, the block group 1 is in Census Tract 201 (0201.00) in Autaugua County, Ala. (Alabama is state 01 because it is first in alphabetical order, and Autaugua is county 001 within Alabama).

Links to state and county codes and maps of each census tract are available here.

Maps of blocks within tracts are available here. The blocks show four-digit numbers and the block group includes all blocks sharing the same first digit. We understand that there are “geocoding” vendors who can match street addresses to census areas, and some providers have used these vendors to complete their Form 477s filed with the FCC.

Note that RUS will use a separate response process so existing providers may need to file a second time when that window opens.

After May 10, NTIA will post a list of the locations where existing broadband providers provided data at www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants. The public and applicants will be able to see who filed responsive data as well as the required summary of the responsive information but not the data or contents of the filing, which NTIA has said will be treated as proprietary and confidential to the extent permitted by law.