The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provides a wide range of funding opportunities that nonprofits may pursue to support their activities and serve their communities. One of the less obvious but potentially more significant of these opportunities is the $4.7 billion appropriated to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), administered by the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA). “Broadband” or high-speed Internet access is the term commonly used to refer to access to the Internet and Internet-related services at speeds significantly higher than those available through “dial up” Internet access services. This Alert provides an overview of BTOP and outlines how nonprofits can pursue this funding opportunity.

I. Overview of BTOP

In recognition of the growing importance of access to broadband services to economic development and to the quality of life of all Americans, the Recovery Act appropriated $7.2 billion for initiatives to expand access to broadband services in the United States. Of this amount, $4.7 billion will be available through competitive grants to be awarded by NTIA through BTOP to projects that enhance broadband capacity at public computer centers, encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service, and support the deployment of broadband infrastructure in such areas. [1]

  • The Public Computer Center Category

The Recovery Act provides that at least $200 million will be available for projects that provide broadband access to the general public or a specific vulnerable population, including low-income, unemployed, minorities, aged, and people with disabilities. Projects must create or expand a public computer center meeting a specific public need for broadband service, such as education, economic development, employment, and enhanced service for vulnerable populations.

  • The Sustainable Broadband Adoption Category

The Recovery Act also provides that at least $250 million will be available to fund innovative projects that encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service. Projects should support a specific public need for broadband service, including, for example, education, employment, economic development, and enhanced service for vulnerable populations, children and health care delivery. Projects should describe barriers to adoption, especially among vulnerable populations, and propose an innovative and persuasive solution to encourage adoption of broadband.

II. What Funding Opportunities Are Currently Available Through BTOP?

On July 1, 2009, NTIA released the highly anticipated Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA), soliciting applications for the first round of funding assistance available for the Recovery Act’s broadband initiatives.[2] Approximately $1.4 billion has been allocated in this first round of funding to the three BTOP program categories:

  • Public Computer Center projects - Up to $50 million
  • Sustainable Broadband Adoption projects - Up to $150 million
  • Broadband Infrastructure projects - Up to $1.2 billion

Applications for BTOP grants under this NOFA will be accepted between July 14 and August 14, 2009. NTIA intends to announce the awards under this NOFA starting on or about November 7, 2009.

III. What Can BTOP Funds to be Used For?

BTOP award funds may be used only to pay for eligible costs, which are consistent with the cost principles identified in applicable OMB circulars, including OMB Circular A-122 (“Cost Principals for Non-Profit Organizations”). Costs must be reasonable, allocable, necessary to the project, and comply with the funding statute requirements.

Under both the Public Computer Center and Sustainable Broadband Adoption categories, eligible costs include:

  • Acquiring broadband-related equipment, hardware and software, and digital network technology for broadband services;
  • Developing and providing training, education, support and awareness programs or web-based content or resources; and
  • Undertaking such other projects and activities as the Assistant Secretary finds to be consistent with the purposes for which the program is established.

For Public Computer Center projects, eligible costs also include acquiring instrumentation and networking capability; and facilitating access to broadband services, including, but not limited to, making public computer centers accessible to the disabled. For Sustainable Broadband Adoption projects, eligible costs also include conducting broadband-related public education, outreach, support and awareness campaigns; and implementing innovative programs to facilitate greater access to broadband service, devices, and equipment.

IV. Who is Eligible to Apply for BTOP Funds?

Entities eligible to apply for BTOP grants include nonprofits, including foundations, corporations, institutions, and associations, and for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, cooperative or mutual organizations, states, local governments, political subdivisions, and other entities identified in the NOFA.

V. Application and Submission Information

To be eligible for consideration, BTOP applicants must submit a complete application and all supporting documentation, demonstrate that they will substantially complete the proposed project in no later than two years, and that the project will be fully completed in no later than three years, following the date of issuance of the award. Applicants must also demonstrate that the proposed project will advance one or more of BTOP’s five statutory purposes; provide at least 20 percent matching funds (unless a waiver petition is approved); document that the project would not be implemented during the grant period but for a federal grant; and demonstrate that the budget is reasonable.

The contents of an application for BTOP funding assistance vary depending on the category of funding. We would be pleased to provide additional, detailed information about the application requirements for each project category.

In addition, the following are prerequisites for applying for a BTOP grant: (1) a Dun & Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and (2) registration for a Central Contractor Registration (CCR) number.  

VI. Two-Step Review Process

Applications will be individually reviewed using a two-step process, where the application will be scored against objective evaluation criteria. Four categories of scoring criteria will be used to review and analyze BTOP applications: Project Purpose; Project Benefits; Project Viability; and Project Budget and Sustainability. In Step One, the application will be evaluated and applications considered to be the most highly qualified will advance for further consideration. In Step Two (the “due diligence” phase), NTIA will request the applicant to submit additional information to substantiate representations made in its application. Those applicants that advance to Step Two will have 30 days from the date of the request to submit the supplemental information to NTIA, which will review and analyze the information and assign a rating that reflects the consistency of the application with supporting documents.