03 Dec Funding Alert! Rural Broadband Access Grants and Loans
United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Development
Is your organization or government agency seeking to improve broadband access in rural areas? Check out this great opportunity from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA recently announced at least $1.15 billion in loans and grants to enhance access to high-speed internet for rural residents through its ReConnect Program. ReConnect uses a variety of funding instruments (loans, grants and loan-grant combinations) to support construction costs, improvements, or facility and equipment acquisition needed to provide sufficient access to broadband service. This improved infrastructure and access will ultimately support long-term economic development in rural communities. Applications for this program are due February 22, 2022.
Who is eligible to apply?
Eligible applicants include the following types of organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit): cooperatives or mutual associations; corporations, limited liability companies, or limited liability partnerships; states, local governments or an agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision thereof; a U.S. territory or possession; and federally recognized Tribes.
What are the program details?
Applicants to the ReConnect Program may apply for one of four funding structures:
- 100% Grant: up to $25,000,000 for most applicants, or up to $35,000,000 for applicants proposing to exclusively serve areas that the USDA classifies at Frontier and Remote Level 4).
- 100% Grant for Tribal Governments and Socially Vulnerable Communities: same funding amounts available as the previous category.
- 50% Loan and 50% Grant Combination: up to $25,000,000 for the loan and up to $25,000,000 for the grant (these two requested amounts must be equal).
- 100% Loan: up to $50,000,000.
ReConnect grants and loans can support necessary costs related to the construction/improvement of equipment and facilities for providing fixed, terrestrial broadband service (e.g., buildings, land, fixed wireless equipment, etc.); up to 5% of the total award for reasonable pre-application expenses (e.g., environmental review costs); and acquisition of and improvements to an existing system that currently does not provide sufficient broadband access (100% loan requests only).
What makes a project a good fit?
Potential projects must serve rural areas in which at least 90% of households lack sufficient access to broadband services. This program defines “sufficient” broadband access as fixed, terrestrial broadband service at 100 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.
For the purposes of this program, “rural areas” are defined as cities, towns, or incorporated areas with a population greater than 20,000, or urbanized areas adjacent to a city or town with a population greater than 50,000. The proposed service area(s) must be fully contained within a rural area or composed of multiple rural areas. You can view and search the ReConnect Program’s service area map, including areas designated as Frontier and Remote Level, here.
The USDA also encourages proposals that assist rural and disadvantaged communities with economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, promote equitable access to Rural Development programs and benefits, reduce climate pollution and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change, and create jobs in rural areas.
What if I am ready to apply? To move your project forward, take the following action steps as soon as possible:
- Review the full program solicitation for additional details and review criteria.
- Explore service area maps, evaluation criteria, FAQs, past awarded projects, and other resources at the USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program page.
- Register to attend one of two upcoming ReConnect Program informational webinars on December 8 and December 15.
- Make sure your System for Award Management (SAM) registration is active and be sure you have a Grants.gov profile. You can check your SAM status here: https://sam.gov/content/status-tracker.
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. Rosie Brennan, Community Engagement Specialist, will be happy to talk with you about this opportunity and provide you a quote for grant services.
What if I am not ready to apply this year?
Start preparing for next year! The USDA’s Rural Development office also has a variety of other programs and funding opportunities available that might be a good fit. The office’s website has ample resources 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 new Federal Grants Training Series throughout 2021! The series is designed to support nonprofit leaders before and during the application process. AGS also offers several 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.
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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