The USDA said today that it will begin accepting applications on January 31, 2020 for a second round of rural broadband funding in the ReConnect program. A total of $550 million will be made available. The deadline for submitting applications will be March 16, 2020.
USDA ReConnect Second Round
Plans for the second funding round are similar to those for the first round, which is still being awarded. USDA has a budget of $600 million for the first round and about a third of it has been awarded. Awards are made in the form of grants, low-interest loans and 50% grant/50% loan combinations, with a third of the budget allocated for each of the three funding types.
The second round uses the same three types of funding but gives USDA a bit more wiggle room: the budget for each type of award is “up to $200 million.” And while the first round had staggered deadlines for submitting applications for the different award types, all types of applications for second-round funding will be accepted between January 31 and March 16.
As in the first round, funding targets areas that largely lack broadband, defined as service supporting at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. Those winning funding must deploy infrastructure capable of supporting speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps to the unserved locations.
Also as in the first round, applications will be scored based on a range of criteria, such as the rurality of the project area and the number of farms, businesses, healthcare facilities and educational facilities to be served. Some details about the criteria have changed from the first round. These and other changes are detailed in the Federal Register, along with other details about the awards and application procedures.
The second round of the ReConnect program, like the first round, will be open to a wide range of network operators, including corporations, cooperatives, non-profit entities, state and local governments, Indian tribes and others. Awards made to date in the first round have included small rural telcos, rural electric cooperatives and others.
The maximum loan amount that an applicant can request is $50 million and the maximum grant size an applicant can request is $25 million. Those seeking combination grant/loans must ask for no more than $50 million, and funding requested must be evenly divided between the loan and the grant.
Those requesting grant funding must provide a matching contribution equal to 25% of the overall project cost.
Those winning funding will have five years to complete their projects.
Another ReConnect Award Made
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans for the ReConnect second round at an event in Iowa today, where the latest award in the first round was also announced. That award went to the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company of Stanton, Iowa, which will receive $6.4 million that will be used to make broadband available to 477 households, 35 farms and 21 businesses in rural areas of two Iowa counties.