The USDA will begin accepting applications for round 5 of the ReConnect rural broadband funding program on March 22. Providers have until May 21 to submit applications. The agency released new rules for this round of the program, which differ somewhat from round 4 rules.

Also today, USDA awarded $42 million in ReConnect awards through the previous round. The funding went solely to two Florida providers. Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative will receive a $17.8 million grant and IBT Group USA will receive a $24.2 million grant.

Update February 24: Originally, USDA set a deadline of April 22 for ReConnect round 5 applications. But according to a notice published in the Federal Register dated February 26, the deadline has been extended to May 21.

ReConnect Round 5

In round 5 of the ReConnect program, as in previous rounds, providers may apply for grants, low-interest loans or 50/50 grant-loan combinations. There is also a separate grant category for Alaska native corporations, tribal governments, colonias, persistent poverty areas and socially vulnerable communities.

One important change for round 5 that will affect many small rural providers: Providers receiving support through the E-ACAM program are only eligible for 100% loan funding. The agency will determine the eligibility of applicants that receive other FCC Universal Service Fund high-cost support on a case-by-case basis in accordance with high-cost program rules, USDA said in a notice of funding opportunity for ReConnect round 5.

Key information about each of the four funding types:

  • 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 minimum award amount for all four categories is $100,000.

Scoring Criteria

The scoring criteria for round 5 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.”

Providers interested in applying in ReConnect round 5 should check USDA’s notice of funding opportunity for details.

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