Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of $20 million to deliver broadband technical assistance resources for rural communities and support the development and expansion of broadband cooperatives in these communities.
This funding opportunity is made available through the new Broadband Technical Assistance (BTA) Program and opened for applications on April 19 with a deadline for applications set for June 20, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time Zone. This program will utilize funds under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The Broadband Technical Assistance program aims to provide financial assistance through cooperative agreements (the nature of which requires collaboration between the awardee and USDA Rural Utilities Service Staff) to eligible entities to receive or deliver broadband technical assistance and training. The funding is also available to eligible entities so they may access federal resources and conduct or expand data collection and reporting.
There are three key priorities USDA Rural Utilities Services have encouraged applicants to consider in their applications:
- Assisting rural communities recover economically through more and better market opportunities and through improved infrastructure.
- Ensuring all rural residents have equitable access to RUS programs and benefits from RUS funded projects.
- Reducing climate pollution and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change through economic support to rural communities.
This program is administered by the Rural Development program area of USDA, which supports rural America and hosts more than 70 programs including those that expand access to high-speed internet, electric and transportation infrastructure, and supports business growth, healthcare, education, housing and other community essentials.
The Rural Development local government interest programs are largely funded by the most significant piece of legislation related to agriculture and food, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. Title VI of the Farm Bill contains significant funding tailored to help underserved rural and small communities. To learn more about the Farm Bill’s significance for every community as Congress prepares to reauthorize this legislation later this year, click this link.
Who is eligible to apply?
Eligible applicants include state and local governments (including agencies and subdivisions), federal recognized tribal entities, territories, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations with a 501(c)(3) status, cooperatives or mutual organizations, corporations, and limited liability companies or partnerships.
To receive these funds, the eligible entity must promote broadband expansion in a rural community. For purposes of this program, a rural program is defined as “any area not located in a city, town, or incorporated area with a population greater than 20,000 or an urbanized area next to a city, town or incorporated area with a population greater than 50,000 people.” This mapping tool produced by USDA outlines eligible areas and contains additional eligibility information.
The Broadband Technical Assistance program is open to both technical assistance providers and recipients, meaning that local governments in their capacity as a provider of technical assistance to the rural community or local governments in their capacity as a rural community may be an applicant to the program.
What are the funding categories?
A total of $20 million is available in FY2023 for this program. The following funding categories outline the amount available under each category.
- Up to $7.5 million available for Technical Assistance Providers (minimum award amount is $50,000 and maximum is $1,000,000).
- Up to $7.5 million available for Technical Assistance Recipients (minimum award amount is $50,000 and maximum is $1,000,000).
- Up to $5 million available for Projects Supporting Cooperatives (minimum award amount is $50,000 and maximum is $1,000,000).
What kind of projects may be funded?
Broadly, the Broadband Technical Assistance funds can be used to support any broadband technical assistance activities in rural areas. Projects that are used to construct broadband infrastructure or a broadband network are not eligible for these funds, as the funds are only available for technical assistance.
Some examples of eligible projects include, but are not limited to:
- Assisting entities in identifying and planning for delivering broadband service to eligible rural areas;
- Identifying resources to finance broadband facilities from public and private sources;
- Preparing feasibility studies, financial forecasts, market surveys, environmental studies, and technical design information to support broadband services;
- Preparing reports and surveys necessary to support the need for broadband services, the price range, and to request financial assistance; or
- Analyzing and improving operations related to the management of broadband facilities (i.e., implement automation, adopt new software, conduct training, etc.) and to the efficiency of the entity.
The projects proposed in the application must also include a component allowing for active participation and involvement by USDA Rural Development. There is no local match or cost share requirement for this program.
Who should I look to partner with and what are the application requirements?
If you are an eligible community, there are a number of partners that you may want to reference in your application as either a technical assistance provider or recipient.
The program announcement encourages applicants to include the Rural Partners Network in their applications. The Rural Partners Network is an all-of-government program that serves as a front door to federal programs and information to help rural communities grow and thrive. The network hosts funding, technical assistance, training, toolkits and more and provides an opportunity for communities to learn from one another. Local leaders can identify what community networks may be in their region to partner with by visiting this webpage.
Complete applications should consist of the following materials.
- Written narrative proposal
- Standard Form 424, “Application for Federal Assistance”
- Standard Form 424B, “Assurances – Non-Construction Programs”
- RD Form 400-4, “Assurance Agreement”
Interested in Applying?
Interested applicants should review the full funding opportunity announcement and the BTA Program Page linked above for the full detailed instructions for each item of a completed application.