Editor's Note: BroadbandCensus.com extends the invitation to broadband observers and experts to offer thoughts on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's broadband stimulus grant process. We asked Craig Settles, a broadband business strategist, marketing expert, author and internationally renowned speaker, what he thought of the applications that the NTIA has received. His reply:
By Craig Settles, Guest Commentary, BroadbandCensus.com
From what I've seen and read about so far, these applications fit into three loosely defined categories: The dreamers, the hopefuls and the planners.
The dreamers threw proposals out there that have no chance of being funded but figure there's always the wild possibility that lightning might strike and they'll get lucky. The company that put in a proposal for $1.4 billion for sustainable adoption and computer centers when only $450 million has been set aside for the whole country to share.
The hopefuls got to the party late, April or May, or they're from urban and other areas that were clearly short-changed by the NOFA rules' wording and late arrival. Philly's a good example of the latter. The hopefuls have viable broadband needs, but the time worked against them preparing a great proposal and the rules backed them into a corner. However, they submitted anyway, on a hope and a prayer.
Those in the planners category were well on their way to having all the details in place before the stimulus even came out. They probably have the strongest position among the 2,200. The hopefuls are in the 50/50 position. Whether they win a grant or not depends a lot on how strong their political mojo is and how many proposals have come from their respective states.
What bothers me, though, is the grant review process. Following the blog of one of the reviewers, there is no evidence that reviewers are being properly vetted for competence or lack of conflicts of interest. Their overall preparation seems limited, plus it's almost Sept 14th and at least this one reviewer hasn't received an application or any indication of when he'll receive one to review. A magazine interview with another reviewer shows a similar pattern.
Though political expediency works against the idea, I think we could all be saved a mighty train wreck if NTIA were to turn this whole review process over to ICF, the process outsourcing company RUS is using. Sure, it'll delay things a month or two and it might be embarrassing. However, if checks were to go out in January as planned, most recipients won't be able to start buildouts for several months anyway. And if you think it would be embarrassing to say we had a good idea, but the timing for its execution was bad, think about how truly embarrassing it's going to be if this whole process flies completely off the rails.