The $600 million the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is offering through its Rural eConnectivity (ReConnect) Pilot Program, is a significant amount of money, but it will only go so far in high-cost areas. Expect a great deal of demand for ReConnect dollars; competition will likely be intense. Increase your chances of success by understanding what RUS is looking for as they make award decisions.
Congress authorized RUS to dispense $600 million to service providers in the form of grants, grant/loan combinations, or loans to deploy broadband to areas with insufficient service. An area is considered “insufficiently served” if it lacks fixed service of at least 10 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream. Program participants will be required to provide at least 25/3 service..
Of course, there is a lot more to it. RUS has provided a great deal of information about the ReConnect application process, with still unannounced filing deadlines coming this spring and summer. There are steps you can take now to evaluate whether the program is right for you – and to be ready when the application windows open. Here are a few steps you can take to get off to a solid start.
Designate a Subject Matter Expert. Choose a point person on your staff to look at the program’s web site. There are a lot of resources, requirements, webinars, and upcoming workshops to explore. RUS will also be publishing an application guide soon, so be ready to dive in.
Get Registration and Code Numbers. If you don’t already have the following registrations and numbers, RUS suggests getting started now. Some of them can take time to complete:
- A Login.gov account
- A DUNS (Dun & Bradstreet Universal Numbering System) Number
- A SAM (System for Award Management) Registration
- The SAM will also generate a CAGE (Commercial and Government Entity) Code.
Assemble the Past Four Years of Financial Statements and Past Two Years of Audited Financial Statements. RUS requires that applicants have a financial track record, so have this information ready. If a subsidiary company is applying and it does not have records going back this far, records for the parent company (or companies) will suffice, but the parent company will be responsible for performance.
Understand the Scoring of the Evaluation Criteria and Its Relationship to the Mapping Tool. RUS will score ReConnect grants and grant/loan combos using the program’s Evaluation Criteria. RUS will award qualifying loans on a first-come, first-served basis. The RUS Mapping Tool, which locates schools, healthcare, critical community facilities (police and fire stations) and tribal lands in a given area will play a key role in scoring applications with these criteria:
- Population density: 6 or less square miles, 25 points.
- Performance speed: 100+ Mbps service earns 20 points.
- Farms served: 1 point per farm; 20 points maximum.
- Businesses served: 1 point per pre-subscribed business; 15 points maximum. (Farms and businesses will need to sign RUS-supplied forms in order to count for scoring purposes.)
- Healthcare facilities served: 1 point per health center on the Mapping Tool; 15 points maximum.
- Schools served: 1 point per educational facility on the Mapping Tool; 15 points maximum.
- Critical community facilities served: 1 point for each on the Mapping Tool; 5 points maximum.
- Tribal lands: Areas at least 50 percent tribal on the Mapping Tool receive 5 points.
- State broadband activity – Up to 20 points. (State officials must certify state broadband activity):
- State broadband plan updated within the past five years, 10 points.
- States that do not restrict utilities’ provision of broadband, 5 points.
- States that expedite rights of way and environmental rules, 5 points.
I will have additional thoughts to share about the ReConnect application process as the filing deadlines draw near. I encourage you to contact NRTC if you have any questions about the process and would like to explore ways that NRTC Broadband Development could help you compete for grants or loans. Call your regional business manager or leave a note for me on our Contact page.
Eric Freesmeier is president, NRTC Broadband Development.
Update, Feb. 25: RUS has announced new filing deadlines for ReConnect applications. The deadlines originally were to be earlier in the spring. However, the agency said earlier this month that it would extend the deadlines due to the partial government shutdown in December and January.
- Applications for ReConnect grants will be due May 31, 2019.
- Applications for 50 percent grant/50 percent loan combinations are due June 21.
- Applications for loan are due July 12.
Note that RUS will score grants and grant/loan combinations according to set criteria but will not score loans. RUS will consider the first loan application it receives for a given service area in the event it receives multiple applications for that area.