Heather Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies
Cat Blake, Civic Technology Analyst
The Consolidated Appropriations Act that became law in late December created the “Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.” We present here our preliminary guidance for maximizing the impact of this new funding opportunity, based on our analysis of the appropriations language. We will be developing in-depth analysis as program rules are developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) over the next month.
What is the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program?
The $285 million Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program will provide grant funding to eligible recipients to purchase broadband or eligible equipment, or to hire and train IT personnel. Entities eligible to receive grants through this program include:
- Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU)
- Tribal colleges and universities (TCU)
- Minority-serving institutions (MSI), which include:
- Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI)
- Alaska Native-serving institutions (ANSI)
- Native Hawaiian-serving institutions (NHSI)
- Predominantly Black institutions (PBI)
- Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISI)
- Native American-serving, nontribal institutions (NASNTI)
- A consortium led by an HBCU, TCUs, HSIs or MSI, that also includes a minority business enterprise or a nonprofit organization in the anchor community
Of the total awards given through the program, at least 40 percent of grants must be made to HBCUs, and at least 20 percent of grants must be made to HBCUs, TCUs, and other minority serving institutions to provide broadband service or equipment to their students. Eligible equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots; modem, routers, or combined modem/routers; laptops, tablets, or similar internet-connected devices; and any other equipment used to provide broadband.
What will the grants support?
For higher education recipients, grants are intended to support instruction and learning, including remote learning. For minority business enterprises and nonprofits, grants are intended to support the operation of the organization. Educational institutions that receive a grant to support student connectivity must prioritize students that:
- Are eligible to receive the Pell Grant
- Receive need-based financial aid from the federal government, state, or the institution
- Qualify for the FCC’s Lifeline program
- Earn less than 150% of the federal poverty line
- Have been approved to receive unemployment insurance since March 1, 2020
Anticipated elements of a competitive application
Based on our expectations for this program, we believe that competitive applications will be those that offer a high impact per dollar, and that lay the groundwork for program sustainability even after the life of the initial award. We believe that the program will be more conducive to providing equipment and service than to building new infrastructure, though there certainly may be infrastructure projects that would be a good fit.
We encourage clients to think creatively about applications that would serve high-poverty areas of the anchor community, and that could incorporate applicants’ student population into a programmatic element of the project. While the program details have not yet been developed, our initial analysis suggests that the following ideas may be examples of strong fits for this program:
- An eligible entity could apply for the equipment and broadband service needed to support a new fiber optic workforce development program at the college or university.
- An eligible entity could apply for the equipment and broadband service needed to outfit a tech lab or community center in a low-income area of the community. Students from nearby higher education institutions could be hired to provide tech support, skills training, or mentorship.
- An eligible entity could apply for eligible equipment needed to build or extend its wireless network into the community, and to enable connections at nearby homes in high-need areas to support remote learning. Laptops or tablets could also be provided to eligible households.
The new federal funding represents an exciting opportunity to support connectivity initiatives and includes hard-to-come-by programs for urban and suburban broadband support.
We encourage all clients to begin thinking creatively about how these dollars might best benefit their communities. Please do not hesitate to contact CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies Team for assistance in developing a strategy.