Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced this year’s Community Connect Grant Program, which provides grants to rural areas lacking broadband speeds of at least 10/1 Mbps. Applications will be due by December 23, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Grant requests can range from $100,000 to $3 million and applicants will be required to provide a 15% match. Approximately $30 million is available for these grants. Rural areas with the greatest need for broadband services and applications will be scored based on the area’s economic characteristics, educational challenges, healthcare needs, public safety issues, stakeholder involvement, and management expertise of the applicant.

There have been a few important changes for this year’s round of applications:

  • Definition for 10/1 Mbps broadband service excludes satellite and mobile services;
  • Applications will undergo a Public Notice process to allow challenges of proposed areas that lack sufficient broadband service. Providers will have 45 days from the date the notice is published to file responses;
  • Projects funded will be subject to a “Buy American” requirement;
  • Grant funds, instead of matching funds, must be used to purchase computers and fund at least two, but not more than 10, computer access points;
  • Multiple applications may be submitted, but only the application with the highest score will be selected;
  • Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) provisions apply to projects located within trust land (as defined in section 3765 of title 38, United States Code); and
  • Additional reporting requirements will apply to any awarded project.

USDA also launched a new portal to accept this year’s round of applications. The new application portal will streamline and provide:

  • One common platform to draw the proposed service area and upload application documents;
  • Mapping functionality across telecom programs;
  • Timely submission of application; and
  • Ability for applicants to work on multiple applications simultaneously.

JSI has years of experience assisting companies develop successful federal grant applications like this one. If you are thinking about applying for the upcoming Community Connect broadband grant, we have many resources that can help simplify the application process for you. If you have any questions or would like to discuss how we can assist with your application, please reach out to Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Valerie Wimer at 301-459-7590.