Heather Mills, V.P. for Grant & Funding Strategies
Lydia Weinberger, Civic Technology Analyst
Local governments and minority serving institutions (MSI) have a unique partnership opportunity in the Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program—which has a fast-approaching application deadline on December 1, 2021. Now is the time for local governments to speak to their MSI partners to identify potential projects.
The $285 million CMC grant program was established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to support MSIs and their surrounding communities. The program will fund purchasing broadband services and equipment, hiring information technology personnel, and upgrading on-campus facilities. In other words, this is not a broadband infrastructure program—it is an opportunity for local governments to fund workforce development, curriculum development, and service with their higher education partners.
Local governments can apply in partnership with eligible applicants
For purposes of applying to the CMC pilot, eligible institutions include:
- Historically black colleges and universities (HBCU)
- Tribal colleges and universities (TCU)
- Minority-serving institutions (MSI), which include:
- Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian-serving institutions (ANNH)
- Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISI)
- Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI)
- Native American-serving nontribal institutions (NASNTI)
- Predominantly Black institutions (PBI)
The CMC pilot program also covers qualifying surrounding communities as a way to provide further support for low-income students and businesses. NTIA was purposeful with its definition of “anchor community”: Any area within a 15-mile radius of an HBCU or other MSI (other than some TCUs) that has an estimated median annual household income of no more than 250 percent of the poverty line.
For TCUs located on land held in trust by the United States that are also located within a reservation, the reservation boundary will create an area of interest (AOI) for each institution. The AOI will be used to define the institution’s anchor community boundary.
You can check out the eligibility status of your communities by consulting the CMC Anchor Community Eligibility Dashboard. If you believe the Dashboard is in any way incorrect, plan to submit supplementary information. A list of eligible HBCUs and TCUs can be found on the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) College Navigator Website. The Eligibility Matrix for MSIs is available on the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education website.
Take the time to understand what the CMC pilot will fund. Eligible costs include:
- The purchase of broadband internet services
- The installation and upgrade of campus facilities on a one-time, capital-improvement basis
- The hiring and training of IT personnel
- The purchase or lease of equipment and devices for student or patron use
What’s missing from this list? You cannot use the CMC pilot to fund an infrastructure build for broadband services. While the program will fund one-time upgrades to facilities, the intent is to outfit existing structures, not create new ones. The rules prohibit ground disturbance (construction) activities that require state or federal historic preservation or environmental review approvals. However, general in-building or classroom wiring, deploying fiber through existing conduit or trenches, installing wireless equipment (e.g., access points, routers), and installing wireless transmission equipment are not considered construction and therefore can be included.
Be strategic in what you include in your proposed project and its budget. The CMC pilot has an expected award range of $500,000 to $3 million. Competitive applications will most likely fall in that range. If you are asking for more than $3 million, be prepared to provide justification as to why your application is reasonable. Keep in mind that 20 percent) of grant funding is earmarked to provide broadband service or equipment to students. It makes sense that you should craft your application to mirror that structure.
Application scoring considerations
In CTC’s initial analysis of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, we noted that strong proposals would include workforce development, equipment lending, and education components, and should prioritize low-income students and community members. That is still an important framework. A well-rounded application will score better with the reviewers.
It’s worth your time to understand the scoring. The CMC Pilot will include a programmatic review to verify the proposed project’s eligibility. Then, during the merit review, NTIA’s reviewers will score each project as follows:
- Project Needs and Benefits (up to 35 points): Level of demonstrated community need and how the project will address those needs
- Project Purpose (up to 25 points): How the project aligns with the program’s purposes
- Project Viability and Innovation (up to 20 points): The project’s technical feasibility and the organizational capability of the applicant
- Project Budget (up to 15 points): The reasonableness and sustainability of the budget
- Project Evaluation (up to 5 points): How the results of the project will be assessed
The two-year award period (i.e. when funds will become accessible to an awardee) is expected to begin in March 2022. More information on the CMC Pilot (including webinars and FAQs) can be found on the BroadbandUSA website.
CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies team continues to analyze the latest developments in federal funding. Please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.