With the March 9, 2022, application deadline recently passed, it is time to begin planning for the next step in the ReConnect grant and loan program: the challenge process. The ReConnect challenge process is one way the program’s administrator, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), will seek to ensure that funding is going to eligible locations. The process is straightforward—but will unfold over multiple steps.
- RUS issues a Public Notice Filing for each application
- Internet service providers (ISP) can challenge a Public Notice Filing with a Public Notice Response if they already serve a proposed funded service area—or have substantially initiated service there
- RUS validates Public Notice Responses
- RUS conducts Service Area Validations to confirm or deny Public Notice Responses
Step one: RUS issues a Public Notice Filing (PNF) for each application
The starting point is the proposed funded service area (PFSA) identified in ReConnect applications. Within a few days, RUS is expected to launch a searchable database of Public Notice Filings (PNF) documenting the PFSAs and other key details in each application. PNFs will be publicly available for 45 calendar days, roughly through April 8, 2022.
Step two: ISPs can challenge a PNF with a Public Notice Response (PNR) if they already serve a PFSA—or have substantially initiated service there
If an ISP or another eligible entity wants to respond to a PNF—in other words, to challenge the eligibility of one or more PFSAs in an application—they will file a Public Notice Response (PNR).
An ISP can challenge a PFSA by showing RUS that the ISP currently is “offering sufficient access to broadband service” within the PFSA. An ISP can also challenge a PFSA if it has substantially begun efforts to offer services in the area.
The ISP (referred to as a “respondent” in this step) will file a PNR through its USDA Level 2 eAuthentication (eAuth) account. In terms of mapping, the respondent can draw a shape on the PFSA map associated with the PNF or can submit its own shapefile with details of its service area within the PFSA.
The PNR also requires the respondent to provide details on its service levels and number of households served; respondents can also submit speed test results for the disputed area (though those are optional).
PNRs will not be public; rather, they will be used by RUS to guide the next steps in the process.
Step three: RUS validates PNRs
RUS will validate PNRs by working directly with respondents (i.e., the ISPs that challenged PFSAs in ReConnect applications). According to RUS, PNR respondents will be contacted during this step to:
- Provide additional information, including test results validating the details submitted in the PNR
- Conduct an on-site field validation with RUS staff
- Conduct on-site testing with RUS staff
RUS states that it “will notify respondents if their challenge was successful or not and allow for [a] response.”
Step four: RUS conducts Service Area Validations (SAV) to confirm or deny PNRs
As a final step, RUS will conduct a Service Area Validation (SAV) of all PFSAs that were subject to a PNR. (If no PNR is submitted, then an application’s PFSA will be assumed to be eligible if it meets RUS’s other requirements.)
To validate the service area, RUS states that it will:
- “Check for 100/20 Mbps service in the PFSA
- Utilize desktop research to inform determinations on service availability
- Validate other information submitted in the application”
CTC’s Grant and Funding Strategies team is ready to help you with the ReConnect challenge process. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss how CTC can assist you.
 “Service Area Eligibility Requirements,” USDA RUS, https://www.usda.gov/reconnect/service-area-eligibility-requirements.
 “Public Notice Filings,” USDA RUS, https://www.rus-services.rd.usda.gov/s/. To receive alerts when PNFs are published, sign up here: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDARD/subscriber/new?qsp=USDA_RD-PNFs.