Solving the broadband access challenge is a bipartisan issue which requires a shared vision and partnerships from a coalition of stakeholders, policymakers and citizens. An ecosystem of partners and collaboration is critical for community broadband network success.
The Michigan Moonshot is a platform to:
- Share information statewide and nationally
- Engage and educate leaders and policy makers
- Assist communities in negotiating planning grants through federal, state and philanthropic means
- Help communities acquire one-time construction subsidies
- Foster public-private partnerships
The Quilt works with Jeff Mitchell of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth to prepare a monthly broadband policy update for member organizations. These updates include the latest news from Capitol Hill, mapping updates, funding opportunities, news from national organizations like the FCC and the NTIA, and more.
Economic Development Administration (EDA): CARES Act Recovery Assistance: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides the EDA with $1.5 billion for economic development assistance programs to help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Only public, educational, and nonprofit entities are eligible for funding. Eligible projects include “enhancing access to and use of broadband services to support job growth through business creation and expansion.” This limitation generally precludes funding for residential projects, however, funding could be used in some scenarios to build fiber for business purposes that could later be used as middle mile fiber for residential broadband. Funding is available for planning purposes and could potentially be used for broadband feasibility and pre-engineering.
Broadband USA funding database: The NTIA hosts a searchable database featuring 50 federal broadband funding opportunities across a dozen federal agencies. Visit this database to explore all programs that might be used for broadband funding. Note that many programs have specific criteria that may limit eligibility. The programs with the broadest eligibility are listed below.
USDA – Rural Utilities Service – Community Connect Grant Program: The Community Connect program helps fund broadband deployment in rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private-sector providers to deliver service. The 2021 program is now open, with applications due on December 23, 2020. Though the appropriation for the upcoming fiscal year has not been finalized, this program is generally very competitive, with only around $35M available last year. Of note, this year all areas lacking 10Mb/1Mb fixed service are eligible, while in the past areas lacking 10Mb/1Mb fixed but receiving 10Mb/1Mb mobile were excluded. Areas that received 25Mb/3Mb mobile are still excluded. Grants under this program can be a maximum of $3M and require a 15% match.
USDA – Rural Utilities Service – Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect): ReConnect offers three types of funding options for broadband infrastructure to connect rural families, businesses, farms, ranches, schools, libraries, and public safety facilities to modern, high-speed internet. A rural area is eligible if it currently does not have sufficient access to broadband at the 10Mb/1Mb level, excluding cellular and satellite. The ReConnect grants, low-interest loans, and grant and loan combinations can be used to construct, improve, and acquire facilities that provide internet services to customers’ premises, with reliable technologies that are suitable for the type of rural community and the type of high-speed internet use. Applications for ReConnect 2020 are due by March 16, 2020. Grants under this program can be a maximum of $25M and require a 25% match.
FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is the FCC’s next step in bridging the digital divide. On January 30, 2020, the Commission adopted the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Report and Order to establish the $20.4 billion RDOF which will target at least 4 million rural homes and small businesses that lack fixed broadband service. While the requirements of the program make it difficult for municipalities and community anchors to participate, there may be opportunities to incentivize private investment. This allocation will be executed as a reverse auction with Phase 1 scheduled to begin on October 29, 2020.
FCC E-Rate Program: The schools and libraries universal service support program, commonly known as the E-Rate program, assists schools and libraries in obtaining affordable broadband. E-Rate can be helpful for building fiber to community anchor institutions that might be used as middle mile service in the future, but E-Rate funds generally cannot be used to build residential service.
Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC): The Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) is providing a grant opportunity to extend broadband service into unserved areas in Michigan. The grant funds are available to projects that demonstrate collaboration to achieve community investment and economic development goals of the area impacted. This grant program was funded with $20M state-wide for the 2019 application year. The first round of awards for this program have been announced and are available here. An allocation of about $15M is anticipated for this program for next year.