By: Hailey Farrow, Marketing Manager on behalf of CostQuest Associates.
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 in need of quality high-speed internet access to equalize access to economic, telemedicine, education, and more opportunities accessible online.
Listed below are rural broadband grants specifically dedicated to expanding broadband service to rural communities to help ensure they get access to high-quality internet access as the world progresses further into the digital era.
Rural Broadband Grants Guide covers:
Total: $502 million
Eligible entities: 1) Corporations, 2) Limited Liability Companies and Limited Liability Partnerships, 3) Cooperatives or mutual organizations, 4) States or local governments, including any agency, subdivision, an instrumentality of political subdivision thereof, 5) A territory or possession of the United States, and 6) An Indian Tribe
The ReConnect Program was instituted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and an investment of $502 million was announced by the Biden-Harris Administration to be used to provide high-speed internet access for rural America that does not currently have sufficient access to broadband services and infrastructure. The long-term goal of this program is to fuel rural economic development and opportunities in rural America for the foreseeable future.
The funding from this program can be used to:
- Fund the construction or improvement of facilities required to provide fixed terrestrial broadband service.
- Fund reasonable pre-application expenses.
- Fund the acquisition of an existing system that does not currently provide sufficient access to broadband (eligible for 100% loan requests only).
Entities eligible to receive ReConnect Program funds must meet the following criteria:
- Lack of sufficient access to broadband. At least 50% of households in the proposed funded service area (PFSA) must lack sufficient access to broadband service. “Sufficient access to broadband” is defined as having at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.
- Serve all premises in the PFSA. The proposed network must be capable of providing broadband service to every premise located in the PFSA at the time of application submission at the speed defined above
- Be in a rural area. A rural area is any area not located in a city, town or incorporated area with a population of greater than 20,000 inhabitants or an urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to a city or town with a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants.
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.