Funding Alert! Connectivity for Rural Communities!

United States Department of Agriculture

Attention broadband providers, local governments and officials, and cooperatives! The Rural Utilities Service, an agency under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is accepting proposals for its Rural eConnectivity Program. This program provides loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas. By facilitating the expansion of broadband services and infrastructure, the program will fuel long-term economic development and opportunities in rural America. Applications may be submitted beginning September 6, 2022, through November 2, 2022.

Who is eligible to apply?

This opportunity is for nonprofit or for-profit corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships, cooperative or mutual organizations, states or local governments, U.S. territories, and Indian tribes. Eligible service areas must propose broadband services directly to all premises in the proposed funded service area (PFSA). At least 50 percent of households in the PFSA must lack sufficient access to broadband. Applicants must submit evidence of lack of sufficient access, identify all existing providers in the PFSA, and indicate what level of service is provided. Individuals and co-applicant projects will not be considered.

See 1740 Subpart B for a complete list of eligibility.

What are the program details?

Applicants are encouraged to submit projects that will advance these key priorities:

  • Assist Rural communities to recover economically from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly disadvantaged communities;
  • Ensure all rural residents have equitable access to Rural Development programs and benefits from Rural Development funded projects; and
  • Reduce climate pollution and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change through economic support to rural communities.

In addition, projects should highlight the importance of creating good-paying jobs with strong labor standards.

Applicants may include costs associated with satisfying the environmental review requirements for reimbursement as well as post-award monitoring expenses to mitigate any environmental requirements.

With an estimated funding pool of $22,500,000, the FY23 HSI program anticipates funding 30 to 60 total awards. There are three tracks for applicants:

100 Percent Loan: the interest rate for a 100 percent loan will be set at a fixed 2 percent. Principal and interest payments will be deferred for three years. The amortization period will be based on the composite economic life of the assets funded plus three years. Loans may be for up to $50,000,000 with a total funding pool of $150,000,000.

50 Percent Loan/50 Percent Grant Combination: The interest rate for the 50 percent loan component will be set at the Treasury rate for the remaining amortization period at the time of each advance of funds. Principal and interest payments will be deferred for three years. The amortization period will be based on the composite economic life of the assets funded plus three years. The maximum amount that may be requested is $25,000,000 for loans and $25,000,000 for grants, for a total of $50,000,000 with a total funding pool of $300,000,000. Loan and grant request amounts must be equal.

100 Percent Grant: Applicants must provide a matching contribution equal to at least 25 percent of the cost of the overall project. The applicant must clearly identify the source of the matching funds, even if it is to be provided from the applicant’s operating accounts. In response to COVID-19 cashflow constraints, the agency will modify the grant agreement to permit awardees to deposit the required match into the operating funds on a rolling basis. Grants may be for up to $25,000,000 with a total funding pool of $150,000,000. To encourage broadband deployment in remote areas, if the project supports a PFSA comprising 100 percent of areas classified by the USDA Economic Research Service as FAR Level 4, the maximum request is $35,000,000.

Additional criteria exist for applicants serving Alaska Native corporations, tribal governments, colonies, persistent poverty areas, and socially vulnerable communities. See the full solicitation B.1.iv.a-e for more information.

What makes a project a good fit? Proposals will be evaluated on the rurality of the PFSA and density of population within the area, the level of existing service to the PFSA, the economic need of the community, and the affordability of service offerings once established, which must include at least one low-cost option with sufficient household speed for telework and remote learning and labor standards. Competitive preference will be given to applicants serving tribal areas that are local government, non-profit or cooperatives, socially vulnerable communities, applicants committing to net neutrality principles, and those proposing to buy market access, bandwidth, and functionality on a wholesale basis.

What if I am ready to apply? To move your project forward, take the following action steps as soon as possible:

What if I need help with this application?

Contact Assel Grant Services (AGS) today! Our team can help with all aspects of preparing the application and managing the grant if you are awarded. If you would like to discuss this possibility, please contact AGS as soon as possible. Julie Assel, GPC, President/CEO, will be happy to talk with you about this opportunity and provide you with a quote for grant services.

What if I am not ready to apply this year?

Start preparing for next year! USDA also has a variety of other programs and funding opportunities available that might be a good fit. The office’s website has ample resources, webinars, and descriptions of available or upcoming opportunities.

How do I learn more about federal grant proposal writing, so my application is more likely to be successful?

AGS is excited to offer a Federal Grants Training Series in 2022! The series is designed to support leaders at institutions of higher education before and during the application process. AGS also offers on-demand webinars on a variety of topics to support the full grant cycle. Check out our website to learn more and sign up for our training newsletter.

AGS blogs, funding alerts, and trainings are aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills

Competency #1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs

Skill 1.2: Identify major trends in public funding and public policy

Skill 1.6: Identify fundable programs and projects for specific organization

Skill 1.7: Determine best matches between funders and specific programs