Exploring USDA reConnect eligibility
Eligible applicants must be able to supply retail broadband to customers. Applicant types include:
- Cooperatives, non-profits, or mutual associations
- For-profit corporations or limited liability companies
- States, local governments, or any agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision thereof
- A territory or possession of the U.S.
- An Indian tribe (as defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. § 450b))
For a geographic area to be eligible to receive Federal funds from this pilot program, it must meet two criteria: (1) it must be rural and (2) most households must currently have insufficient internet service.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED “RURAL”?
Service areas shall not be located in a city, town or incorporate area that has a population greater than 20,000 or an urbanized area adjacent to a city or town with a population greater than 50,000 people ° Eligible areas must be completely contained within a rural area or composed of multiple rural areas. Visit the mapping tool at reconnect.usda.gov for additional eligibility information.
WHAT IS “CURRENTLY INSUFFICIENT SERVICE”?
At least 90 percent of households in the proposed area must not have sufficient access to broadband service ° For this program, sufficient access is defined as fixed terrestrial broadband service at 10 Mbps (megabits per second) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream ° No part of the proposed area may overlap with the service area of a company that has received a broadband loan from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) as defined in this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).
Notes from Federal Register
RUS borrowers eligible for more: “RUS broadband borrowers that received funding to provide service in an area where the borrower is not currently providing sufficient access to broadband pursuant to this FOA would be eligible to apply for funding for these service areas”
BIP areas are eligible. Service areas that received a 100 percent grant under the RUS Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) are eligible if they do not have sufficient access to broadband. However, if the applicant is the same BIP grantee, then the applicant may only request a 100 percent loan.
State-funded Areas ineligible. Areas that received State funding to deploy broadband at a speed of at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream are ineligible areas under this FOA. Applicants must provide a map of the proposed funded service area to the appropriate State government office and the State government office must certify that either funds have or have not been allotted for the area.
100% grant applications only in 100% inadequate areas: “The proposed funded service area for this category must be in an area where 100 percent of the households do not have sufficient access to broadband.”
IRU fiber is ineligible cost: “To fund broadband facilities leased under the terms of an operating lease or an indefeasible right of use (IRU) agreement”
Pre-application expenses are eligible: “Pre-application expenses must be included in the first request for award funds, and will be funded with either grant or loan funds.”
whole-system buyouts are eligible: “fund the acquisition of an existing system that does not currently provide sufficient access to broadband for upgrading that system to meet the requirements of this FOA. The cost of the acquisition is limited to 40 percent of the amount requested. Acquisitions can only be considered in the 100 percent loan category;
Applicants must have audited financials: “Applicants must submit unqualified, audited financial statements for the two previous years from the date the application is submitted. If an application is submitted in the first quarter of the calendar year and the most recent yearend audit has not been completed, the applicant can submit the two previous unqualified audits that have been completed. If qualified audits or audits containing a disclaimer or adverse opinion are submitted, the application will not be considered;”
Certified by professional engineer: “Applicants will be required to submit a network design, network diagram, project costs and a buildout timeline, all certified by a professional engineer.
Extra points for areas under 6 persons per mile: “For population densities of 6 or less, 25 points will be awarded”
Extra points for pre-registered farms, businesses, health care, schools, Critical Community Facilities: :”Applicants will receive 1 point for each farm that pre-subscribes for broadband service up to a maximum of 20 points.” “1 point for each business that pre-subscribes for broadband service up to a maximum of 15 points.” “For every healthcare center served 1 point will be awarded up to a maximum of 15 points”
Extra points for 100Mbps: “100 Mbps symmetrical service to all premises, 20 points will be awarded”
Extra Points for tribal lands: “For applications where, at a minimum, 50 percent of the geographical area of the proposed funded service area(s) is to provide service on tribal lands, 5 points shall be awarded. Tribal lands will be analyzed using the GIS layer located at https://www.census.gov/geo/maps-data/data/cbf/cbf_aiannh.html.”
Tribes must certify applications for tribal land: “If service is being proposed on tribal land, a certification from the proper tribal official that they are in support of the project and will allow construction to take place on tribal land.”
Extra points for state broadband plans: “For projects that are in a State that has a broadband plan that has been updated within five years of the date of publication of this FOA, 10 points will be awarded. An additional 5 points will be awarded for projects located in states that do not restrict utilities from delivering broadband service, and 5 more points for projects located in states that expedite right-of-way and environmental requirements.”
Sample close-ups of the map
USDA's notice in the Federal Register says that applications must include "A map, utilizing the RUS mapping tool located at https://reconnect.usda.gov of the proposed funded service areas identifying the areas without sufficient access to broadband and any non-funded service areas of the applicant."
This tool does not appear to indicate whether "sufficient broadband" is available in specific areas, but here's what a few communities in WA look like in the USDA mapping tool.