The New “Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program” Will Support Rural Public-Private Partnerships Able to Act Quickly

Heather Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies

Cat Blake, Civic Technology Analyst

The Consolidated Appropriations Act that became law in late December included a new grant program to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA): The Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

This program is intended to support partnerships between a state or local jurisdiction of a state and a service provider capable of providing fixed broadband service. This public/private partnership approach is meant to enable fast deployment of proposed projects (all grant funds must be expended within a year of award) while benefiting as many potential customers as possible.

We expect NTIA to issue rules by the end of February (60 days after signing of the bill) and anticipate the application window will open almost immediately when the rules are issued. Applications will then be taken on a rolling basis for 90 days. Given this timeline, we recommend our clients begin strategizing now about potential applications.

The grants will be highly competitive; NTIA’s rules will define a scoring system where ‘priority’ will be given to project proposals that:

  • Are designed to provide broadband service to the greatest number of households in an eligible service area
  • Will focus on rural areas (this doesn’t rule out a non-rural proposal)
  • Demonstrate that they are the most cost effective, with rural projects being put at the front of the line
  • Are designed to provide service of not less than 100/20 Mbps

These priorities do not rule out other project proposals that do not meet one or all of the priorities; however, any proposal not addressing some or all of the priorities will have less chance at an award.

The law did outline some important prohibitions to take into consideration as well. Grant funds cannot be used as collateral on loans, nor can they be used to repay or make payments related to a loan. Additionally, if awarded, no more than $50,000 may be utilized to pay for grant application preparation costs.

Finally, applying for this program should not impact applications to other broadband programs for the applicant entity. (That likely is not the case for the proposed project area, however. Applicants must include detailed information about other funding support for which they have applied with regard to the area included in the application.)

CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies Team is ready to support clients now with strategic thinking and planning around potential project proposals for this new program. Keep an eye on this space for more detail and analysis of the program as the rules are released, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to discuss the opportunity.

Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2021 by CTC Technology & Energy