At the end of March, the USDA announced that they will officially begin accepting applications to their new ReConnect Pilot Program on April 23. More details are now live over at the USDA, but we’ll go ahead and catch you up on what’s new and break down some of the key info for you here.

Funding

The program provides $600 million to expand reliable broadband to severely underserved rural areas. The funds are divided equally between three funding types: Grant, Loan, and 50-50 Grant and Loan combo. Applicants are only allowed to submit one FOA application, with the following maximum awards per proposal, to be disbursed starting in late 2019:

  • 100% Grant Max: $25 Million
  • 50% Grant/50% Loan Combo Max: $50 Million
  • 100% Loan Max: $50 Million

The funding is technology-neutral, and may be used for four different purposes:

  • Construction or improvement of buildings, land, and other facilities required for providing broadband service. This includes equipment needed to provide additional services which will be provided over the same facilities.
  • Reasonable pre-application expenses, not to exceed five percent of the total award. If the application is for a grant or loan/grant combo, then grant funds will be used first. Pre-application expenses must be incurred after the FOA and included in the submitted application.
  • Acquisition and improvement of existing systems providing insufficient broadband service; only 100% loan requests are eligible.
  • Funding terrestrial-based facilities supporting the provision of satellite broadband service.

Proposal Area Eligibility

The program fund applies to severely underserved rural areas without sufficient access to broadband. The USDA specifically defines “sufficient access to broadband” as reliable 10 Mbps up / 1 Mbps down, and “rural areas” as service areas with populations at or under 20,000 residents.

The 100% Loan and 50% Loan / 50% Grant combo both require 90% of households in the proposed eligible service area to not have sufficient broadband access (10 up/10 down), while the 100% Grant requires 100% of households in a service area to not have sufficient broadband access.

Proposed Service Requirements

All three funding categories require the proposed network to be capable of providing service to every premise in the service area at a minimum of 25 Mbps down / 3 Mbps up.

Entities eligible for these funds include phone and broadband service providers, rural electric co-ops, national and regional private companies, nonprofits, tribal entities, state and local government instrumentalities. The only ineligible entities are sole proprietors and limited partnerships.

Project Proposal Ingredients

Proposals must include the following levels of specificity:

  • Geographic boundaries of the proposed service area that currently lacks 10/1 Mbps Internet speeds.
  • Type of technologies that will be used to provide new rural broadband service of 25/3 Mbps or above (could be fiber, fixed wireless, and certain terrestrial components of satellite service).
  • Number of rural premises you will be connecting, such as homes, schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, farms, ranches, and businesses. Some of these entities receive additional points during the application process, so make sure you know the number and details for these! For score details, see www.usda.gov/reconnect/evaluation-criteria.
  • Business plan for how the service will be constructed and on what timeframe services will be available to customers.
  • Information about the structure and financial well-being of the community, cooperative, or company that is submitting the application.
  • System design for delivering 25/3 service including cost estimates of proposed facilities.
  • How the project will satisfy NEPA, Section 106, and other environmental requirements.

Timeline:

  • Applications Open: April 23, 2019 at www.reconnect.usda.gov
  • Grant Deadline: May 31, 2019
  • Grant/Loan Combo Deadline: June 21, 2019
  • Low-Interest Loan Deadline: July 12, 2019

Next Steps

  • Start planning your projects now, if you haven’t already started.
  • Identify data sources for the high level of detail required for applications.
  • Decide what funding format you may pursue and would qualify for, and plan for the relevant deadline.
  • Keep an eye on upcoming USDA in-person training events related to ReConnect. If you are considering submitting a proposal, you should seriously think about attending one of the trainings most conveniently timed and located. You can find the list here: www.usda.gov/reconnect/events.

 

Current Mapcom clients, if you are planning on submitting a proposal for the ReConnect pilot program, please let us know by filling out the form below.
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