11 11, 2021

Webinar: Breaking Down the ReConnect Round 3 Funding Program

2021-11-12T08:29:17-05:00November 11, 2021|Webinar Recordings|

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has announced the application window for Round 3 of its Rural eConnectivity Program (ReConnect), which will provide $1.15 billion in grants, loans, and grant-loan combinations for broadband buildout projects in rural America. This third round of funding will consider areas where 90% of the households lack access to fixed broadband services with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps. If you did not have qualifying areas for Round 2, you likely will for Round 3 due to this eligibility change. The program requires awardees to provide services with speeds of 100/100 Mbps to all premises in the proposed geographic area(s). RUS will begin accepting applications on November 24, 2021, and all applications must be received by February 22, 2022.

JSI recently hosted a webinar to help those interested in applying for the funds prepare for the 2022 program. Our experts, who have shepherded many companies through the process in Rounds 1 and 2, shared important information and strategies, including:

  • Program requirements and deadlines for grants, loans, and grant/loan combinations, including details on requirements for tribal governments and socially vulnerable communities
  • Differences between Round 3 and previous competitions
  • How to determine eligible areas and whether to apply
  • Details on RUS’s scoring criteria
  • Strategies for success based on JSI’s work with past ReConnect winners

Because of the program’s complexity and the funding options available, this webinar also will feature scenarios for each of the funding options: 100% loan, 50% loan 50% grant combinations, 100% grant, and 100% grant for tribal governments and socially vulnerable communities.

JSI-assisted applicants have been very successful in previous ReConnect competitions, with 93% of Round 2 applicants awarded funding through the program. We are ready to work with you on all aspects of a ReConnect application and broadband project.

For a copy of the webinar recording, please contact Brenda Cordwell at 240-556-1295. For more information about the ReConnect program or to get started on an application, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Amanda Molina at 321-985-5709.

9 11, 2021

Landmark Federal Infrastructure Bill to Provide $65 Billion for Broadband

2021-11-09T15:03:13-05:00November 9, 2021|e-Lerts|

Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act late on Friday, November 5, 2021. The legislation appropriates more than $1 trillion to fund national infrastructure projects, including approximately $65 billion specifically for broadband infrastructure and related programs over the next five years. The bill now heads to the White House for signing. Rural broadband providers will benefit from several of the Act’s programs. This e-Lert summarizes the key broadband provisions for rural broadband providers.

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program
The National Telecommunications and information Administration (NTIA) will distribute $42.45 billion to the states based on the number of unserved locations in each state, with an initial minimum allocation of $100 million for each state. The remainder of the funds will be distributed based on each state’s unserved locations, defined as those lacking 25Mbps / 3Mbps. Private companies, cooperatives, and public-private partnerships will be eligible to receive grant funds through each state. Grants can be used for unserved (25/3Mbps) and underserved (less than 100/20Mbps) projects; connecting anchor institutions; data collection, broadband mapping and planning; installing CPE to eligible multi-family residential buildings; providing affordable internet-capable devices; and other uses determined by NTIA. Except for high-cost areas, grant funds may cover a maximum of 75% of the project costs, but grantees may use funds from the four previously passed COVID-19 response laws to meet the remaining 25%. Funded projects must deliver 100/20 Mbps within four years and must offer at least one low-cost broadband service option.

Middle-Mile Infrastructure Grant Program
Congress appropriated $1 billion to NTIA for a competitive middle-mile grant program to connect unserved and underserved last mile areas to the Internet backbone. Rural carriers are among the entities eligible for this program, which encourages public/private partnerships and may fund up to 70% of the middle-mile project costs. NTIA must release its notice of funding within the next six months.

Affordable Connectivity Program
Congress extended and modified the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP), now called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), with $14.2 billion to the FCC. The Act decreases the non-tribal monthly household benefit from $50 to $30.

Congress appropriated $2 billion for the fiscal year ending Sep. 30, 2022, to Rural Utilities Service’s existing the ReConnect program for broadband grants, loans and grant/loan combinations. ReConnect requires broadband speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps.

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
Congress appropriated $2 billion to the existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for 2021-2022 fiscal year and to remain available until expended.

Appalachian Region High-Speed Broadband Deployment Initiative
Congress appropriated $1 billion over five years to the Appalachian Regional Commission for High-Speed Broadband Deployment and Regional Energy Hub initiatives. Congress directs that at least 65% of the funds be used for the broadband initiative. The Regional Commission must coordinate its grants with the FCC, NTIA, and the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to avoid duplication of federal funding programs.

Digital Equity Programs
Congress appropriated $1.5 billion over five years to promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by states related to broadband adoption. States must develop a State Digital Equity Plan and submit it with its application for grant funds. The Commerce Department will also create the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to award $1.25 billion over five years to support those efforts.

Other Notable Items

Beyond the various grant programs contained in the legislation, Congress directed the FCC to take action in three broadband-related administrative programs:

  • $10 million to the FCC for a Broadband Deployment Locations Map. This program is funded separately from the FCC’s broadband DATA maps but will incorporate broadband service availability reported by those maps.
  • The FCC is directed to examine and make recommendations on how it should achieve universal service goals for broadband and submit to Congress its report in 270 days after the Act’s enactment.
  • Congress also directs the FCC to develop rules for consumer labels for broadband service no later than one year of enactment. After the FCC develops the rules, broadband providers must use broadband consumer labels when giving information to customers regarding broadband internet access service plans.

In addition, the legislation includes funds for improving the nation’s electric grid through smart grid and boost its security. The Rural and Municipal Utility Advance Cybersecurity Grant and Technical Assistance Program will provide $250 million for grants to help rural and municipal utilities deploy advanced cybersecurity technologies for electric utility systems and increase participation in threat sharing programs. As well, $3 billion will go towards a Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program to fund up to 50% of qualifying smart grid investments.

Please contact Douglas Meredith at 801-294-4576 or Carl Perry at 512-338-0473 if you have questions or concerns about the Infrastructure Act or would like JSI’s help in planning your participation in these new opportunities.

23 06, 2021

Webinar Duo: Broadband Funding – Where’s the Money & How to Plan for Success

2021-11-02T13:09:56-04:00June 23, 2021|Webinar Recordings|

Expanding broadband, particularly in rural America, is finally in the spotlight after the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for everyone to be connected. We are seeing billions of dollars being appropriated on the federal and state levels for broadband buildout and other programs to connect Americans to their work, schools, doctors, and other institutions.

This flood of money will provide many opportunities for broadband providers, but you need to keep track of these new developments and prepare for the various programs’ requirements. We recently held a two-part webinar event. During Part One we surveyed all the programs that are authorized and being planned—including state grant deployments, tribal land funds, and NTIA funding programs. Part Two focused on steps you can take today to prepare and what you need to do to be successful in receiving these funds for your deployment.

Part One:

  • Updates on several annual grant/loan programs, including RUS’s ReConnect and Community Connect;
  • How state and local governments plan to use the $220 billion provided in the COVID-19 State Fiscal Recovery Fund and $130 billion in the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund and what portion of those funds could be earmarked for broadband-related efforts;
  • New funding programs under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), including the Economic Development Appropriation and the Broadband Infrastructure Program; and
  • Other programs that may tangentially benefit broadband providers and their customers, such as the Homeowners Assistance Fund and the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

Part Two:

  • Identifying potential target areas even before an application deadline is announced;
  • Starting conversations with potential partners/allies in order to expand eligibility for grants based on the qualification of both parties;
  • Preparing business cases, buildout budgets and financial documents, including letters of support; and
  • Getting set up with required registrations (CAGE codes, Dunns numbers, state registrations, etc.) to speed up your application prep.

Recordings of the full two-part webinar are available for $400. Contact Leah Yoakum or Brenda Cordwell in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 for more information about these webinars or to purchase the recording.

30 04, 2021

Begin Prepping Now for ReConnect Round 3 Competition

2021-11-02T13:13:19-04:00April 30, 2021|e-Lerts|

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.

9 04, 2020

Webinar: A Guide to the CARES Act

2020-04-09T14:53:19-04:00April 9, 2020|Webinar Recordings|

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law on March 27 contains several provisions and opportunities for rural telecom companies. The federal legislation provides additional money for rural broadband, telehealth programs, and distance learning. Plus companies are eligible for emergency loans designed to help them with the unplanned expenses they’re incurring as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Our free webinar, “A Guide to the CARES Act,” provided a rundown of the stimulus bill’s telecom items, as well as possible future legislation, further response from the FCC, and what some states are doing to help. You’ll learn about the telecom-specific items in the CARES Act, including the $100 million in additional grants for the RUS ReConnect Program, $25 million for the RUS Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, and $200 million for the FCC’s Connected Care pilot project. We also outlined loans available from the Small Business Administration to help companies affected by the COVID-19 crisis and looked at other key healthcare and small business items included in the CARES Act.

If you would like a copy of the webinar recording, please send your request to Brenda Cordwell. If you have questions about the CARES Act, please contact Douglas Meredith. If you’d like more information on JSI’s COVID-19 Financial Impact Model, please reach out to Steve Meltzer or Bhavini Sokhey at 301-459-7590.

30 01, 2020

JSI Celebrates Clients’ Outstanding ReConnect Round One Success

2021-04-05T15:06:18-04:00January 30, 2020|News|

Prepared to Assist Companies with Round Two Applications Due March 16

JSI congratulates the rural companies it helped to apply and land more than $116.2 million in grants and loans so far in the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Pilot Program. The program distributes funds to build broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities throughout rural America. Of the companies JSI worked with in round one, more than 60% of them were successful. USDA began naming the ReConnect first round winners last fall and continues to publicize new winners, but several JSI clients’ awards have not yet been formally announced.

So far, seven of our clients’ first round awards have been announced:

Star Telephone Membership Corporation will use its $23.7 million grant to build over 535 miles fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband facilities in North Carolina, which will pass 4,462 possible service locations consisting of farms, businesses, residential and critical community institutions.

Wabash Telephone Cooperative, Inc. in Illinois will use $12.8 million split 50/50 between a grant and a loan to deploy 298 miles of fiber-optic cable in unserved areas of Jefferson and Wayne counties. This investment is anticipated to reach 1,684 households, 31 farms, 29 businesses, nine educational facilities, two critical community facilities and one health care center.

Home Telephone Company will use its $8.1 million grant to deploy 96 miles of fiber-optic cable in unserved areas of Charleston and Berkeley counties in South Carolina. Home will provide matching funds to complete the project, which includes 3,780 households, 19 educational facilities, and eight critical community facilities spread out over 219 square miles.

Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation Inc. will use a $48 million loan to construct a FTTP network throughout 1,847 square miles in nine Virginia counties. The service area is expected to reach 22,604 households, 19 educational facilities, eight critical community facilities and one health care center.

Green Hills Telephone Corporation in Missouri will use a $2.6 million grant to expand its FTTP network to rural areas in Caldwell and Livingston counties. This investment is expected to reach 20 pre-subscribed farms, 20 pre-subscribed businesses, 546 households, a fire protection district and two educational facilities.

Duo County Telephone Cooperative Corporation Inc. in Kentucky plans to use its $18.7 million grant to deploy a FTTP network in rural Adair, Cumberland and Russell counties. The funded service areas include almost 3,650 households spread over 45 square miles.

Thacker-Grigsby Telephone Company Inc. will use a $2.3 million grant to deploy a FTTP network in rural Breathitt County in east Kentucky. The funded service area includes 637 households spread over 109 square miles.

Looking Ahead to Round Two
The second round of the ReConnect program kicks off on Friday, January 31, with the opening of the application window. USDA will distribute $550 million in additional grants and loans during round two. Applications are due March 16, 2020.

JSI will once again assist companies compete for ReConnect funds. We can help with all aspects of project applications and planning, including mapping of potential funding areas, preparing the required financials, performing a competitive analysis of the potential areas, and shepherding clients through the full application process.

If your company is interested in applying for a ReConnect award or if you have any questions about the program, please contact Valerie Wimer at 301-459-7590 or Lans Chase at 770-569-2105. JSI also held a free webinar in December on ReConnect Round Two. If you missed it, you can request a copy of the recording by emailing Janee Devis.

18 12, 2019

Free Webinar: Kicking Off Round Two of the ReConnect Funding Program

2019-12-18T17:01:18-05:00December 18, 2019|Webinar Recordings|

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has released the program guidelines for round 2 of its Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect). ReConnect provides $550 million in grants and loans to help pay for building broadband in unserved rural areas that lack 10/1 Mbps. The program’s application portal will open on January 31, 2020, and applications can be submitted through 6 p.m. EST on March 16, 2020.

To help clients prepare for the 2020 program, JSI hosted a free webinar to share important information and updates about the ReConnect Program, including:

  • Changes in requirements and program guidelines
  • Program requirements for grants, grant/loan combinations, and loan funding
  • How to determine eligible areas
  • Who should apply?
  • RUS’s scoring criteria
  • Deadlines
  • Strategies for success

Because of the program’s complexity, we also reviewed several scenarios as examples for each of the three funding options. This webinar should help you determine an eligible area and gather information for a possible application.

To request a recording of the JSI webinar, please contact Janee Devis at 301-459-7590. For more information about the ReConnect program please contact Cassandra Heyne in our Maryland office at 301-459-7590.

17 12, 2018

USDA Unveils $600M ReConnect Broadband Grant & Loan Program

2018-12-17T10:58:37-05:00December 17, 2018|e-Lerts|

As we informed clients in our August 6 and August 30 e-Lerts, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) plans to distribute $600 million in grants and loans via a new pilot program for rural broadband in unserved areas lacking access to at least 10/1 Mbps. On December 13, 2018, the USDA announced the program details, including a fact sheet and mapping tool to help interested parties locate eligible areas. USDA has also renamed the program which is now called the Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program or ReConnect.

Below we outline some of the key program rules and, in the coming weeks, we will host a webinar to provide further details about the ReConnect Program. Additionally, JSI is prepared to assist in all phases of the application and funding processes. If you are considering applying for funds, please contact Janee Devis in our Maryland office to be added to our ReConnect distribution list. We will provide you with updates about the program, deadline reminders, and other important information.

What Types of Entities Are Eligible:

All types of profit and not-for-profit entities, including rural telcos, WISPs, electric cooperatives, and community broadband providers, are eligible to apply. ReConnect is not restricted to those with experience in providing communications services, so we expect that the competition for funds could be intense. In addition to commercial enterprises, entities eligible to apply include states, local governments, and “any agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision thereof.” Territories and tribal authorities can also apply.

What Options are Available for Funding:

The ReConnect Program will have three category options for funding: grant-only, combination 50% grant and 50% loan, and loan-only. Up to $200 million is allocated to each category, and applicants can only apply in one category. Grant-only awards will only be considered in areas where 100% of the households lack 10/1 Mbps. Areas where there is not availability of 10/1 Mbps broadband to 90-100% of households are eligible for grant/loan and loan-only combinations. All three categories require that a minimum of 25/3 Mbps broadband is deployed.

When Applications Are Due:

Applications for the grant-only awards are due by April 29, 2019. The grant/loan applications are due by May 29, 2019. The loan-only applications are due by June 28, 2019, but will be evaluated and awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis, beginning in March 2019.

What Areas Are Eligible:

Unless one of the following exceptions apply, all rural areas where there is less than 10/1 Mbps broadband are eligible for funding:

  • RUS cannot fund more than one project that serves any one geographic area. If RUS receives qualified applications that contain overlapping service areas, RUS will follow certain procedures to determine how those applications will be processed.
  • Entities that have RUS broadband loans (Telecom Infrastructure, Farm Bill Broadband, BIP loans) can apply for funding in areas where they are not currently delivering at least 10/1 Mbps if they have not defaulted on, and have materially complied with, in the sole discretion of RUS, their prior broadband loan requirements. No other entities can apply in these areas.
    • This means that in rate-of-return study areas where the provider is supported by a previous RUS broadband loan, the rate-of-return provider is the only entity that is eligible to apply for ReConnect funds.
  • Areas that should be served via a Community Connect grantee are eligible if they do not have sufficient broadband access, except for those areas where the grants are still listed as “pending.”
    • Many past Community Connect grants were only funded to 4/1 Mbps, so presumably these areas would be eligible for ReConnect funds. If you were a Community Connect grantee at a lower speed requirement, ReConnect might be a good opportunity.
  • Areas that received a 100% grant under the RUS BIP program are eligible if the BIP grantee is not already delivering at least 10/1 Mbps. However, if the applicant is the same BIP grantee, then the applicant may only request a 100% loan. Areas that have received state funding to deploy broadband at a speed of at least 10/1 Mbps are not eligible. As part of the application process, the applicant must provide a map of the proposed funded service area to the appropriate state government office, and the state government office must certify whether funds have or have not been allotted for the area.
  • In areas awarded to CAF Phase II Auction 903 winners, only the auction winner can apply for ReConnect funding, and the winner can only apply for funds from the loan-only funding category.

Stay tuned for more information from JSI about when we will host our webinar and other developments regarding the ReConnect program. For questions about the ReConnect program, eligibility, and the application process, please contact Cassandra Heyne or John Kuykendall in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Lans Chase in our Georgia office at 770-569-2105.

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