TLP Broadband Infrastructure Grant Update – ReConnect

Welcome back to TLP’s Broadband Infrastructure Grant Update!

Earlier this month, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”) opened up its fourth application window for the ReConnect Program.  Applicants have until 11:59 A.M. Eastern Time on November 2, 2022 to submit applications for funding.  The program has over $1.1 billion in funding to award through grants, loans, and loan/grant combinations.  This funding will be used to expand access to affordable, high-speed broadband in rural regions throughout United States.  In the fourth round, RUS has made some significant changes to the program, which it alleges will increase the availability of funding for, and hopefully increase the speed of, broadband deployments in the regions that need it most.

In this round, RUS will award up to $700 million in grants, up to $150 million in loans, and up to $300 million in loan/grant combinations.  Applicants awarded grants through the program will be required to provide a matching contribution equal to at least 25% of the cost of the overall project unless the project falls into one of the following categories: (1) the applicant is a Tribal government or Alaska Native Corporation submitting an application to provide service on Tribal lands; (2) 75% or more of the proposed the proposed service area is comprised of Colonias, persistent poverty counties, or socially vulnerable communities; or (3) 90% of households in the proposed service area do not have access broadband with speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream (“100/20 broadband”).  Generally, applicants may be awarded up to $25 million as a grant, up to $50 million as a loan, and up to $50 million in a loan/grant combination (divided evenly $25 million for the loan and $25 million for the grant).

For-profit and nonprofit entities are all eligible to apply, including corporations, companies, partnerships, cooperatives, state or local governments, territories, and Tribal governments and entities.  The funds may be used to build out broadband networks in areas where at least 50% of households lack access to 100/20 broadband.  Unlike in prior rounds, areas with existing RUS borrowers or other federal funding awards for broadband are not excluded from eligibility, provided that the previously funded projects in that area are not for 100/20 broadband.  Applicants will be required to demonstrate that their proposed service area qualifies by identifying all service providers in the region and explaining what level of service is being provided.

Facilities constructed with ReConnect awards must be capable of delivering 100 Mbps symmetrical service to every premise in the proposed service area.  Additionally, selected applicants are required to participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program and demonstrate their ability to address cybersecurity risks.

Interested parties must submit their applications online via the application portal located on the ReConnect website: https://www.usda.gov/reconnect.  The application process is extensive and RUS encourages interested applicants to begin the application process early.  Complete applications will include general information on the applicant and project, detailed descriptions of the proposed network, a description and map of the proposed service area, a summary and itemized budget of the project, resumes of key personnel, and a description of the company’s organization, in addition to mandatory forms and other required documentation.  Applications must be submitted by 11:59 AM Eastern Time on November 2, 2022 to be considered for this round of funding.

RUS will review and assign a score to each application based upon the rurality of the proposed service area, the level of existing service, the economic need of the community, the affordability of the applicant’s proposed service, the applicant’s proposed labor standards, whether the application will serve Tribal areas, whether the applicant is a local government or non-profit, whether the proposed service area serves socially vulnerable communities, whether the applicant commits to net neutrality principles, and whether the applicant will provide wholesale broadband services.  RUS will then allocate funding based upon the number of points that each application receives.  RUS has not announced when it will begin awarding funds from this window, though historically, RUS begins to award funding between four and six months after the close of the application window.

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