The largest pot of money ever allocated by the federal government for rural broadband is available, and NRECA has put out new resources for members on how electric cooperatives can qualify for funding.
At stake is about $350 billion of Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds, part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March 2021.
A recent U.S. Treasury rule with provisions for how the funds will be allocated is set to take effect April 1, but NRECA offers member resources on how applicants can take steps now to prepare.
NRECA also has member information for $10 billion in Capital Projects Fund money that ARPA made available to states, territories and tribal governments that could be applied to broadband projects.
“Much work still needs to take place before federal agencies begin funding projects. But we want to make sure that co-ops are as ready as they can be when this funding gets released so they can maximize their chances of receiving broadband awards,” said Brian O’Hara, NRECA’s senior director for broadband and telecom.
Several other rural broadband funding vehicles are being finalized by government agencies in the coming months, including $65 billion from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That bill was passed by Congress last year and signed into law by President Biden on Nov. 15.
NRECA recently launched an Infrastructure Resource Hub designed for co-op leaders to stay informed as these programs evolve and to evaluate opportunities for their co-ops and membership.
The Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will administer broadband aid in the following programs:
• $14.2 billion from FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
• $2.75 billion from the NTIA for digital equity and inclusion grant programs.
• $2 billion from the USDA’s ReConnect program.
• $1 billion for middle-mile broadband deployment grants.
Another $42.5 billion for rural broadband from the infrastructure bill will be distributed to states by NTIA after the FCC completes maps showing areas that lack internet access at minimum speeds of 100 megabits per second to download data and 20 Mbps to upload. The commission is not expected to complete these maps before the first quarter of 2023.
Information on these funds will be updated on the Infrastructure Resource Hub throughout the year.
“This is a historic level of investment in broadband which can move the needle for co-ops that are interested in deploying broadband to their unserved and underserved communities,” O’Hara said.
Learn more about co-op broadband funding opportunities in a recent episode of LiveWire, NRECA’s new video series.