For the last several months I have been serving as a merit reviewer for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA grants program.

BroadbandUSA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program makes $980 million available for grants to eligible Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian entities for broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.

I’m heartened to see broadband inequity addressed in our country.  The challenges are complex, and the proposed solutions showed a high degree of resourcefulness.  But what really impressed me is how the BroadbandUSA grants team leveraged the expertise of private sector professionals to bring greater diversity, rigor, and efficiency to the review process.  And they got this expertise for free.

Yes, we all volunteered.

300 applications, 900 merit reviews, ~ 90 days

The grants team followed a three step process:

  • They conducted an initial review of all grant proposals to ensure that the proposals met their qualifying criteria
  • They recruited and vetted subject matter experts from telecom, cable and related fields. They trained us on how to evaluate and score the proposals, which required detailed comments to justify the ratings. Then they matched us with grants fitting our areas of expertise.  Each proposal received at least two independent merit reviews. The grants team provided excellent guidance and technical support along the way.
  • They then gave an in-depth evaluation of the proposals that passed the merit review process

The first grants were announced November 15 and went to the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe in Virginia, and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Wisconsin. Two of the grants will support the provision of broadband services, computers, and digital skills training to tribal members and one will fund a tribal broadband planning project.

Crowdsourcing is not new.  But this is the first time I have seen it used by our government.  I hope this trend continues.

Let me know what examples you are finding!

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