Rural Utilities Service Announces Opening of New ReConnect Program Window

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, has announced the opening of an FY 2022 application window from November 24, 2021 through February 22, 2022 for the next round of the ReConnect Program. Program loans/grants will cover the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband deployment in rural areas. There is $1.15 billion allocated to this funding round.

The funding is targeted at proposed funding areas where at least 90 percent of households lack access to fixed, terrestrial broadband service of at least 100/20 Mbps. RUS will also require proposed facilities to be capable of delivering 100 Mbps symmetrical service to every premise in a proposed funded area, simultaneously. Notably, the minimum service level requirements mark a significant increase from comparable broadband deployment funding programs, which most recently have required minimum service levels of 25/3 Mbps.

Awards will range from a minimum of $100,000 to up to $50,000,000 for 100% loans, up to $50,000,000 for 50/50 loans/grants (split 50/50 between the loan and grant), and up to $25,000,000 for 100% grants. Grant awards can extend to up to $35,000,000 for awards where 100 percent of the proposed funded area is classified by the USDA Economic Research Service as Frontier and Remote Area Level 4. These areas can be found at: https://www.usda.gov/reconnect.

Applications will be scored based on 10 established criteria, broken down as follows:

  • 25 Points for least dense rural areas
  • 25 Points for areas not receiving at least 25/3 Mbps
  • 20 Points regarding economic need of the community
  • 20 Points for the affordability of proposed service
  • 20 Points for quality labor standards
  • 15 Points for Tribal lands
  • 15 Points for applicants that are local governments, non-profits and cooperatives and public-private partnerships of the same
  • 15 Points for socially vulnerable communities
  • 10 Points for net neutrality commitments
  • 10 Points for offering wholesale broadband services

Funding will be offered in areas receiving or under consideration for a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) award, where the applicant can explain why RUS should apply additional funding to the funding area. For example, applicants could show that ReConnect funding would allow a recipient to deploy broadband facilities on an accelerated schedule. Applicants will also be required to certify that ReConnect funds will complement and not be reimbursed by an RDOF award.

Applicants should consider filing applications early in the funding window, as RUS will review and award applications on a rolling basis, and applications filed for the same proposed funding area will be reviewed on a first come, first serve basis. Applications may be filed online at https://www.usda.gov/reconnect. The ReConnect Program will hold webinars on ReConnect Program Regulations (Nov. 9 and 16, from 2-3:30 PM ET) and on the Funding Opportunity Application (Nov. 10 and 18, from 2-3:30 PM ET).

RUS also intends to issue an upcoming Request for Information asking for feedback on the requirement for facilities to provide 100 Mbps symmetrical service. RUS plans to use the feedback to inform future funding announcements and possibly scoring criteria. Parties have already voiced concern to RUS about the requirement, arguing that it is an unnecessary roadblock to funding broadband expansion in rural areas. Similar objections have been raised regarding the points awarded for non-profit and governmental applicants.

If you have questions about the ReConnect Program application window, or the program in general, please contact any attorney in our office.

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