The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced today the availability of $11.7 million under its Community Connect Grant Program (Community Connect), which provides grants for deploying broadband service to unserved, low-income and rural areas.  Grant awards range from $100,000 to $3 million for FY 2016.

Grants may be used to finance the “construction, acquisition or leasing of facilities, including spectrum, land or buildings” as well as the “improvement, expansions, construction or acquisition of a Community Center” that offers free internet access and the cost of bandwidth to provide free service to Critical Community Facilities (e.g. public schools, public libraries, public medical clinics, public hospitals, community colleges, public universities, law enforcement, and fire and ambulance stations).

Incorporated organizations, Indian tribes, state and local governments, cooperatives, private corporations, and for profit and not-for-profi LLCs are eligible to apply.

Community Connect requires the following:

  • Matching Funds: Community Connect requires a matching contribution by the applicant of at least 15% of the total amount requested.
  • Speeds.  Applicants must propose to deliver to every residential and business customer in their proposed funded service area (PFSA) a minimum of 10 MB downstream and 1MB upstream for both fixed and mobile service.
  • Rural Areas. Applicants must serve rural areas, which Community Connect defines as any area not located within) a city, town, or incorporated area with a population of more than 20,000 inhabitants; or 2) an urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants.  Funding is available only for contiguous geographic areas within an eligible rural area where broadband service, defined as s 4 MB downstream and 1 MB upstream for both fixed and mobile broadband service, does not exist.
  • No Overlap. A PFSA may not overlap with area of current RUS loan borrowers and grantees.
  • Critical Community Facilities.  Community connect also requires that applicants propose to offer service, free of charge to users, to all Critical Community Facilities located within the PFSA for at least two years.
  • Community Center.  Further, applicants must propose to provide a Community Center with at least two Computer Access Points and wireless access at speeds of 10/1 free of charge to users for at least two years,

RUS will rank applications using a scoring system and will evaluate applications on financial feasibility and technical considerations.  Applications are due June 17, 2016.

A list of prior awardees is available at: http://www.rd.usda.gov/files/UTP-CCProjectSummaries2015.pdf