A Look at New Broadband Funding Opportunities

Randy Sukow


The government is ramping up new programs to fund broadband network construction and consumer access as the benefits of widespread connectivity become more apparent. Some are programs that are already underway, while others are new initiatives Congress funded in legislation late last year.

NRTC will hold a webinar on Friday, March 5 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss these programs. Policy experts from NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association will join us. Register here to join this informative session. We invite members from all three organizations to attend.

We plan to discuss the following initiatives:

FCC’s $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Fund

  • This program will help maintain home connectivity for consumers in financial distress by providing a $50 monthly discount ($75 on tribal lands) per eligible household; and up to $100 for connected devices.
  • Providers do not have to be Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) to qualify.
  • This is a large effort with many aspects, including verification requirements based on the existing Lifeline low-income program.

NTIA’s $300 million Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Grants

  • Congress directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Department of Commerce, to administer these grants.
  • Broadband providers should apply in partnership with a state, or one or more political subdivisions of a state.

NTIA’s $1 billion Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

  • Applicants for this funding must be tribal entities.
  • However, tribal entities can partner with non-tribal broadband providers as subgrantees.

FCC’s $9 billion (10 year) 5G Fund for Rural America

  • This program was established and funded last year.
  • The FCC currently is processing Petitions for Reconsideration of the rules.

RUS $635 million Reconnect Broadband Grants & Loans Program

  • The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has received additional funding for the ReConnect Grant, Loan, and Grant/Loan Combination program.
  • RUS is expected to seek comment soon on reforming this program’s rules.
  • RUS also has received $35 million for its Community Connect Broadband Grant Program.

FCC’s TeleHealth and E-Rate Programs

  • Congress provided $250 million specifically for a COVID-19 Telehealth initiative, based on the existing universal service Telehealth program.
  • The FCC is reforming E-Rate rules to expand access and meet distance-learning needs.

State Programs

  • States that choose to use last year’s COVID funding for broadband purposes now have an extra year (through Dec. 31, 2021, instead of Dec. 31, 2020) to deploy.
  • NTIA operates the State Broadband Leadership Network that tracks state programs. NTIA will establish a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth to coordinate federal spending and improve efficiency.

Interested members can join us March 5 to learn more details on these new opportunities.

Steve Pastorkovich is senior director of Broadband Funding and Development for NRTC Broadband Solutions.

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