The USDA today said it will make $1.15 billion available in the next round of the ReConnect program to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to rural areas where broadband is not available today. Areas in which 90% of the population lacks service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream will be eligible, and network operators receiving funding will be required to deploy 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
The new budget is about the same amount that was available in the first two rounds of the ReConnect program combined, and the broadband speed parameters have increased. In the previous round, only areas lacking service at 10/1 Mbps were eligible for funding, and funding recipients were only required to deploy 25/3 Mbps service.
USDA said in a press release that it will begin accepting applications for the next funding round on November 24.
Next USDA ReConnect Round Rules
USDA plans to make up to $200 million available to operators requesting ReConnect loans, up to $250 million in loan/grant combinations, up to $350 million in grants with a 25% matching requirement and up to $350 million in grants with no matching requirement for projects in tribal and socially vulnerable communities. The latter category is a new one that did not exist in the first two rounds of the ReConnect program.
The maximum amount that applicants can request for awards comprised of 100% loans is $50 million. The maximum for loan/grant combination awards is $25 million for the loan and $25 million for the grant. As in previous rounds, loan and grant amounts must always be equal.
Both of the 100%-grant award categories have an upper limit of $25 million per grant except for areas classified by the USDA Economic Research Service as FAR Level 4, in which case the applicant may request up to $35 million.
The minimum that can be requested in any ReConnect application is $100,000.
As in the previous two rounds, USDA will use a point system in making award decisions. Criteria include:
- Rurality (25 points)
- Level of existing service (25 points)
- Economic need of community (20 points)
- Affordability (20 points)
- Labor standards (20 points)
- Tribal lands (15 points)
- Local governments, non-profits and cooperatives (15 points)
- Socially vulnerable communities (15 points)
- Net Neutrality (10 points)
- Wholesale broadband services (10 points)
Additional information about the point system can be found in this section of today’s Federal Register.