We expect to see the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announce the third competition soon for grants and loans under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect). RUS could open the competition any time. RUS recently requested comments on rule and criteria changes and that comment period ended earlier this week. The standard application window has been six weeks. And unlike the recent RDOF reverse auction, ReConnect funds network construction based on the budget you provide.
Six weeks does not leave much time for identifying qualified areas, completing financials, and preparing applications. Starting some of that work now will allow you to target the best areas for your application, start a build-out budget, and collect the required documentation to develop a competitive application once the final grant rules are announced. Much of this prep work also will be applicable to other grant programs, such as special COVID-19 related programs and state grants. For example, all applications require a System for Award Management (SAM) registration to do business with a government agency, including RUS. The SAM registration provides companies with a Commercial and Government Entity Code (known as a CAGE code). These CAGE codes sometimes take several weeks for companies to obtain.
Leverage JSI’s Success and Expertise
JSI can help broadband providers with all aspects involved with completing applications. Our clients have had tremendous success in the first two rounds of ReConnect. During ReConnect Round 2 in 2020, 93% of the providers we worked with on their applications were awarded grants and loans.
Even before the competition begins, our experts can map potentially eligible unserved and underserved communities so that you target the right areas. These maps can show you competitors and their speed coverage; existing mechanisms funding the area (grants/loans, RDOF funding, RUS borrowers, etc.); and the number of locations. The maps should guide you to your target areas and can easily be fine-tuned based on the program’s final criteria. JSI also can begin the financial modeling and engineering required for an accurate network construction budget.
What to Expect in Round 3
Although the Round 3 competition has not yet been announced, RUS did publish ReConnect rules in the Federal Register, which became effective April 27, 2021. The rules allow for the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to be shorter and relevant to only the subset of data that can change with each funding year. Expect to also see the following for ReConnect Round 3 once the competition is announced:
- A minimum acceptable level of broadband will be released to establish qualifying areas;
- Future speed requirements for application(s) will be documented;
- RUS will identify and establish what areas will be protected in the new application windows;
- Additional section specifications, including scoring criteria, eligible service area threshold, and eligible award costs;
- Identified interest rates for direct cost-of-money loans and, as applicable, reduced interest rates for 100% loans; and
- Total funding available by category of grant, grant/loan combination, and 100% loan for Round 3.
If you’d like more information about ReConnect Round 3, or if you’d like to get started on your company’s application, contact Valerie Wimer in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Lans Chase in our Georgia office at 770-569-2105.