The COVID-19 pandemic outlined severe inefficiencies within the American infrastructure system as it became apparent that millions of Americans, especially locations in Tribal Regions, did not have sufficient access to high-speed internet. As the world continuously moves online, these Americans and rural communities are being left behind.
Listed below are rural broadband grants specifically dedicated to expanding broadband service to rural communities to help ensure they do not get left behind as we progress further into the digital era.
Rural Broadband Grants Guide covers:
Telecommunications Infrastructure Program
Total: $690 Million
Eligible entities: State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal/Native American Governments as well as Alaska Native Controlled Organizations, Native Hawaiian Organizations, For-Profit Organizations (including ISPs), Non-Profit Organizations, and Electric Utilities/Co-ops.
The Telecommunications Infrastructure Program provides financing for the construction, maintenance, improvement, and expansion of telephone service and broadband in rural areas. This program aims to serve rural areas and towns with a population of 5,000 or fewer. Loan funds from this program may be used to finance telecommunications services in rural areas for:
- New Construction
- Acquisitions (the cost of acquisition must be incidental to the cost of improvements)
- Refinancing (the amount requested for refinancing cannot exceed 40% of the loan amount)
Applications for this program are accepted year-round through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure
Total: $1 billion
Eligible entities: States, Political Subdivision of a State, Tribal Government, Technology Company, Electric Utility, Utility Cooperative, Public Utility District, Telecommunications Company, Telecommunications Cooperative, Nonprofit Foundation, Nonprofit Cooperation, Nonprofit Institution, Nonprofit Association, Regional Planning Counsel, Native Entity, or Economic Development Authority
The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure grant opportunity aims to:
- Encourage the expansion and extensions of middle-mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the internet (referred to as the “last mile”)
- Promote broadband connection resiliency through the creation of alternative network connection paths that can be designed to prevent signal points of failure on a broadband network
The Assistant Secretary will make grants available on a technology-neutral competitive basis to eligible entities to construct, improve, or acquire middle-mile infrastructure.
In awarding these middle-mile grants, priority will go towards projects that:
- Leverages existing rights of way, assets, and infrastructure to minimize financial, regulatory, and permitting challenges
- Designs the route of the middle mile infrastructure to enable the connection of unserved anchor institutions, including Tribal anchor institutions
- Facilitates the development of carrier-neutral interconnection facilities
- Improves the redundancy and resiliency of existing middle-mile infrastructure
- Reduces regulatory permitting barriers to promote the construction of new middle mile infrastructure
- Facilitates increased broadband resiliency and redundancy of existing middle-mile infrastructure; or
- Provides connectivity to unserved areas and underserved areas within the service territory of the utility and nearby communities
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is an FCC Universal Service Fund (USF) program, that aims to ensure that broadband services for rural areas are comparable to those available in urban and suburban areas. RDOF will help accomplish this mission by funding the expansion of rural broadband access through $20.4 billion over ten years, to be distributed in two phases through an FCC-managed reverse auction.
Phase II – Upcoming
The goal of RDOF Phase II is to deploy broadband service to locations in census blocks that are partially served and locations that were not awarded during the Phase I auction.
Total: $11.2 billion
Eligible entities: Eligible Telecommunication Carriers (ETCs)
Grants are available through a reverse auction to certified Eligible Telecommunication Carriers (ETCs).
Phase II is not yet scheduled, with timing still being discussed by the Commission. The FCC plans to use the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC), formally known as Digital Opportunity Data Collection (DODC), to determine the eligible census blocks for partially served areas.
Likely means Phase II will not be scheduled until after the FCC implements the Broadband Data Collection program and develops a granular National Broadband Map.
- Phase II Not yet scheduled – Will not be scheduled until after the Broadband Data Collection of 2021 is complete
5G Fund – Upcoming
The 5G Fund aims to provide all Americans access to 5G broadband service, especially those living in rural areas where a connection may be lacking.
Total: $9 billion
Eligible entities: ETCs with Spectrum Access + Financial/Technical Capability
- The goal is to ensure everyone can have access to and benefit from 5G connectivity regardless of whether they live in a rural or urban area
- Coverage data submitted through the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) will determine the eligible areas
- Like RDOF Phase II, scheduling is dependent on when the FCC acquires the new coverage data from the Broadband Data Collection
The application window is not yet scheduled. It will not be scheduled until after the Broadband Data Collection of 2021 is complete.