NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Program
NTIA has issued the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for its new Broadband Infrastructure Program, funded at a level of $300 million through the Consolidated Recovery Act. The NOFO indicates that applications are due by August 17, 2021 with awards expected by November 15, 2021. The Broadband Infrastructure Program provides new federal funding for the Assistant Secretary to make grants on a competitive basis for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. The Act authorizes grants to covered partnerships for covered broadband projects, defined as competitively and technologically neutral projects for the deployment of fixed broadband service that provides qualifying broadband service in an eligible service area. NTIA expects to make awards under this program within the following funding range: $5,000,000 to $30,000,000. The NOFO also notes that NTIA encourages political subdivisions of a State that are contemplating forming a covered partnership with one or more providers of fixed broadband service to coordinate and consult with the State’s Broadband Office or other coordinating body to ensure that the proposal is consistent with a State’s broadband plan or priorities. If a covered partnership wishes to coordinate or consult with the Office of Broadband Development, please contact us at email@example.com or 651/259-7610.
More information about this federal program, including requirements for grant applications, can be found in the Notice of Funding Opportunity published on grants.gov.
USDA Rural Development ReConnect Program
The USDA has not yet announced information on the 2021 ReConnect Program. We anticipate more details will be available sometime during the second quarter of 2021.
USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine
The DLT Program provides financial assistance to enable and improve distance learning and telemedicine services in rural areas. DLT grant funds support the use of telecommunications-enabled information, audio and video equipment, and related advanced technologies by students, teachers, medical professionals, and rural residents. These grants are intended to increase rural access to education, training, and health care resources that are otherwise unavailable or limited in scope.
Applications are due June 4, 2021.
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.
USDA-RUS Community Connect Program
The 2021 application window for the Community Connect Program has not yet been announced. General information on this program is available on the RUS 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.