Federal Funding Guide
BroadbandUSA, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's broadband website, has issued a resource on federal funding available for broadband projects. See the BroadbandUSA: Guide to Federal Funding of Broadband Projects publication.
Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Community Connect Grants
In a January 9, 2017 Federal Register Notice (PDF), the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced the application period for its Community Connect grants. Applications are due by March 13, 2017. The Community Connect grant program helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service. Rural areas that lack any existing broadband speed of at least 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream are eligible. More information is available on the RUS website.
Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee
The Rural Utilities Service has announced the two application periods in 2017 for its Broadband Loan program, with the first application window March 1-31, 2017 and the second application window from September 1-30, 2017. The Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program (Broadband Loan program) is authorized by the Rural Electrification Act and funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. During FY 2017, loans will be made available for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment to provide service at the broadband lending speed for eligible rural areas. More information on this RUS program is available on their website.
Broadband Grants for Healthcare
The Federal Communications Commission's Rural Health Care Fund supports healthcare facilities in rural areas. The program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). To learn more about funding opportunities, see the USAC website.
Community Reinvestment Act and Public Welfare Investments
The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is a law that encourages banks to make loans and investments and provide services to low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. The federal oversight agencies recently updated their guidance on what types of community development lending and investments may receive CRA consideration, clarifying that broadband investments are eligible. The rationale is twofold. First, more and more banking activities are online; to ensure that low and moderate income individuals have access to banking activities, broadband investment is eligible. Second, broadband infrastructure is recognized as being important to economic development for revitalizing and stabilizing LMI communities. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has a publication on Closing the Digital Divide: A Framework of Meeting CRA Obligations.
The Public Welfare Investment (PWI) Authority allows national banks to make investments that are not otherwise expressly permitted under the National Bank Act. National banks may make investments that are primarily designed to promote the public welfare if those investments primarily benefit low- and moderate-income individuals, low- and moderate-income areas, or other areas targeted by a government entity for redevelopment, or if the investments would receive consideration under CRA. PWI investments can be used to show CRA compliance. There are limits on the amount of PWI investments that can be made. (A bank’s aggregate public welfare investments and outstanding commitments, including the proposed investment, cannot exceed 15 percent of its capital and surplus.)
If you are investigating funding for a broadband project, you may want to contact your local bank(s) to explore CRA or PWI as possible options.
Reduced Pricing Through Your Provider
If you are a low-income subscriber residing in either a Comcast, CenturyLink, or Midcontinent area, you may be eligible for reduced pricing of monthly broadband service.
Other Minnesota cable companies (Charter, Mediacom, and Sjoberg’s Cable) offer discounted pricing for broadband access as well under the federal Connect2Compete program. If your location is served by one of these cable companies, you may want to contact them directly to see if you are eligible.
Both Comcast and CenturyLink offer discounted pricing on computers. Another option for a low-cost computer is available through the nonprofit PCs for People. Reach them by phone at 651-354-2552.
If you want to use a computer but do not want to own one or do not have a broadband connection, the Technology Literacy Collaborative lists community technology centers, including libraries, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. Learn more about computers and how to use them.