The U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun accepting applications for Community Connect grants, which cover as much as 85% of the costs of providing broadband service in unserved and underserved rural communities. Interested parties have until May 14 to submit their USDA Community Connect grant applications.

State and local governments, federally-recognized tribes, non-profit organizations and for-profit corporations are eligible to participate. The value of each grant is between $100,000 and $3 million, and applicants will have to provide matching funding equal to at least 15% of the grant value.

The most current USDA budget shows a budget of $34 million for 2018 and $30 million for 2019 for broadband grants. A spokesperson did not immediately reply to an inquiry from Telecompetitor to confirm those numbers.

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USDA Community Connect Grant Program
Community Connect grants must be used to provide broadband service at minimum speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Eligible territories either have to be unserved with broadband, or only have access to service that is less than 10/1 Mbps, at the discretion of USDA, according to the program rules outlined in the Federal Register. Funding recipients also must use the funding to offer free broadband service to all critical community facilities in their proposed service areas for two years and provide a community center with free broadband service for two years.

“E-connectivity is essential to the economic vitality and quality of life in rural communities,” said Anne Hazlett, assistant to the secretary for rural development, in a USDA press release. “Investing in broadband can strengthen rural economic growth and improve critical access to jobs, education, health care and social services.”

The USDA press release included examples of past Community Connect grant successes:

  • Tennessee’s North Central Telephone Cooperative received a grant to offer gigabit sped internet at reasonable rates. Today, in addition to broadband, the company provides services such as security and cloud services and was recognized with a Smart Rural Community Showcase award from NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.
  • BEK Communications Cooperative of North Dakota used a grant to install 462 miles of fiber to support internet service, which now enables students in the county to take online courses to qualify for college credits.
  • Alaska’s Matanuska Telephone used a Community Connect grant to expand a fiber network, which has enabled web-based content to be developed for local businesses.

When the Community Connect grant program was initially established in 2002, funding could only be used for community computer centers but more recently the program was modified to allow funding to also be used for broadband deployment costs.

USDA will be hosting webinars on April 5th and April 10th to discuss the program.

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