The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced its 2016 application window for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program, which is designed to provide access to education, training and health care resources for rural Americans.  Grants range from $50,000 to $500,000, and applications are due March 14, 2016.  RUS will publish the amount of funding received in the final Appropriations Act on its website.

Specifically, the competitive grants encourage and improve telemedicine and distance learning in rural areas by funding initial capital assets such as telecommunications, computer networks and related advanced technologies.  Grants are intended to benefit end-users in rural areas, who are often not in the same location as the source of the educational or health care service.  RUS defines Distance Learning and Telemedicine as:

  • Distance Learning is a telecommunications link to an end user through the use of equipment to provide educational programs, instruction, or information originating in one area to students and teachers who are located in rural areas and to connect teachers and students located in one rural area with teachers and students in a different rural area.
  • Telemedicine is a telecommunications link to an end user from medical professionals at separate sites in order to exchange health care information for the purpose of providing improved health care services primarily to residents of rural areas.

The DLT grant requires rurality, which means that an end user site must not be located within the boundaries of any incorporated or unincorporated city, village or borough having a population in excess of 20,000 inhabitants.   RUS will give special consideration to end-user sites located in “Strike Force” or “Promise Zone” areas.  Current ‘‘Promise Zones’’ include the South Carolina Low Country, Choctaw Nation, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Kentucky Highlands.  Strike Force teams are public-private partnerships that bring targeted assistance to rural areas experiencing chronic poverty, currently operating in 21 states and Puerto Rico.  RUS will also provide special consideration to applications containing at least one end user site in a tribal area.

Private corporations, incorporated organizations, Tribes, state and local governments, not-for-profit corporations and consortia of eligible entities are eligible to apply.  RUS borrowers are not eligible to apply.  Applicants must provide a 15% matching contribution of the total amount of financial assistance requested, in either cash or in-kind contributions.  In-kind vendor donations ae not eligible.  Applicants who offer more than a 15% match may receive higher scores on their application.

Grants may be used to fund telecommunications-enabled information, audio and video equipment and related advanced technologies which extend educational and medical applications into rural areas.  Specifically, grants may fund the

  • acquisition of eligible capital assets, such as: audio, video and interactive video equipment; terminal and data terminal equipment; computer hardware, network components and software; and inside wiring and similar infrastructure that further DLT services;
  • Acquisition of instructional programming that is a capital asset; and
  • Acquisition of technical assistance and instruction for using eligible equipment

DLT grants do not fund the installation or construction of telecommunications transmission facilities.  With the exception of leases for eligible equipment, DLT grants do not fund the recurring or operating expenses (including but not limited to internet connection fees and maintenance contracts.

Interested parties may apply at www.grants.gov

Project information from 2015 offers details on approved projects, funding amount, matching funds, and project descriptions as well as contact information for the recipients.  USDA offers several financial assistance programs for companies seeking to deploy broadband or offer broadband services in rural communities.