Rural Broadband

USDA has begun accepting applications for $700 million in funding in round five of the ReConnect program, which covers some of the costs of high-speed broadband deployments in rural areas where service is not available.  

Eligible applicants have until May 21 to apply. The original deadline of April 22 was extended.

USDA will be awarding grants, loans and 50% grant/50% loan combinations.

In an announcement released Friday, USDA noted that it has made several improvements for this round of funding, including:

  • USDA will award priority points to applications proposing to serve areas in states with the highest concentrations of unserved broadband serviceable locations.
  • Organizations, including tribes, that can meet robust financial tests will  have increased ability to streamline the required elements in a ReConnect application.
  • At least 90% of households within a proposed service area must lack sufficient access to service at speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.

As Telecompetitor previously reported, the breakdown of how USDA expects to award funding is:

  • Funding available for awards comprised of 100% of grants is “up to” $150 million. Individual applicants may request no more than $25 million.
  • Up to $200 million is available for 50/50 grant/loan combination awards. Individual applicants may request up to $50 million.
  • The budget for awards to be made 100% in the form of loans is “up to” $200 million. The maximum award that can be requested is $50 million.
  • The budget for 100% grants for Alaska native corporations, tribal governments, colonias, persistent poverty areas and socially vulnerable communities is “up to” $150 million. The maximum award per applicant is $25 million.

The scoring criteria for round 5 of the ReConnect program are quite similar to what was seen in round 4, other than two criteria were eliminated and one new one was added. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Rurality of proposed service area (25 points)
  • Economic need of the community (20 points)
  • Affordability (20 points)
  • Labor standards (20 points)
  • Tribal areas (15 points)
  • Local governments, non-profits and cooperatives (15 points)
  • Socially vulnerable communities (15 points)
  • Net neutrality (10 points)
  • Most unserved locations per square mile (up to 10 points)

The categories that were eliminated are “level of existing service” and “wholesale broadband services.” The new category is “most unserved locations per square mile.”

Additional information about the funding round and application process can be found in this announcement.

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