Ahead of its second round of funding for tribal access to broadband internet services, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is urging the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide better feedback to applicants who were denied full project funding in the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program’s first application round.
NTIA has a new program offering grants for projects that increase tribal access to broadband internet. According to a new GAO report, some applicants for that support received full project funding in the first round of funding, while others received “equitable distribution grants” – grants up to $500,000 instead of the amount they requested.
But GAO found that NTIA didn’t provide constructive feedback to the equitable distribution grant recipients and said providing that feedback could help them improve their applications for the second round of funding or for other programs.
“Tribal access to broadband internet lags behind the rest of the country. However, two recent appropriations totaling $3 billion for the new Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program provided the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with an opportunity to help increase tribal access to broadband,” the Aug. 24 report says.
“As of July 25, 2023, NTIA had announced 191 grants totaling $1.79 billion of the $1.98 billion it planned to award under its original notice. On July 27, 2023, NTIA issued a second notice of funding opportunity under which almost $1 billion will be made available to eligible entities,” it continues.
On the feedback front, applicants that received or are expected to receive equitable distribution grants said that constructive feedback could help them understand why they did not receive full funding and improve their applications in the second round of program funding. They also said it could increase their confidence in the impartiality of the program’s award process.
Without constructive feedback, applicants that receive equitable distribution grants will not have the information needed to address issues in their applications in the second, possibly final, round of funding, GAO said.
NTIA’s application for the second round of funding worth $1 billion will close on Jan. 23, 2023.
GAO is recommending that the Administrator of NTIA provide applicants that receive equitable distribution grants in the first round of funding for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program with constructive feedback – by providing debriefings or technical assistance – to help these applicants improve their applications for the second round of funding.
The Department of Commerce – responding on behalf of NTIA – said that the administration has provided constructive feedback to all 45 unsuccessful applicants. This included outreach via phone calls, national webinars, public documents with frequently asked questions, and attending several in-person tribal events to share information.
The department also noted that NTIA plans to prioritize the 45 unsuccessful applicants during the second round of funding.