NTIA wants volunteers to review broadband grants

Concerns raised about quality control

The Commerce Department is recruiting experienced volunteers to help review applications for the $4.7 billion in grants under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program in the economic stimulus law.

Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) published a notice July 6 seeking volunteers “with significant expertise and experience” in broadband applications to help evaluate grant proposals scheduled to arrive from July 14 to Aug. 14. The reviews will continue through September.

The volunteer reviewers must comply with Commerce Department policies on conflict of interest and confidentiality. However, questions are being raised about how well those policies can be enforced in such a massive effort over a short time.

“There is no way, given the short time frame to prepare people, the short window of reviewing and approving grants, and the sheer volume of money to be awarded that you can use volunteers and not have massive failures in quality control,” said Craig Settles, a consultant on municipal wireless. “Then there is the potential for rampant gaming of the system by telecom companies, vendors and even local governments.”

The NTIA’s broadband program is to help communities that have limited broadband service, or no broadband service. Congress funded the program as part of the $790 billion economic stimulus package in February.

According to the notice, to be considered as a reviewer, a volunteer must have significant expertise and experience in at least one of these areas:

  • The design, funding, construction, and operation of broadband networks or public computer centers.
  • Broadband-related outreach, training or education.
  • Innovative programs to increase the demand for broadband services.

This is the first of three anticipated rounds of funding under the economic stimulus law. A single application form will be available for the Commerce and Agriculture departments’ broadband programs.

The economic stimulus law provided $7.2 billion for broadband expansion under programs directed by Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service and NTIA.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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