Welcome to The Federal Corner. Federal agencies disburse billions of dollars in broadband funds each year through multiple agencies and programs. Identifying and educating our state’s broadband stakeholders about these federal programs is essential to Colorado’s ability to secure our “unfair share” of federal funds in order to facilitate broadband access for all Coloradans. In support of Colorado stakeholders’ efforts to secure federal funding, The Federal Corner provides summary information and links to federal initiatives affecting broadband funding policy and programs.
United States Department of Agriculture
See below for the highlights and updates about a few of the USDA connectivity programs. Visit the USDA website for information on all broadband and telecom programs.
ReConnect is a grant, loan, and combination grant/loan program supporting broadband access to rural homes, farms and businesses.
The Congress appropriated $635 million, through the Supplemental Appropriations Act passed December 27, 2020, which will be used to award the agency’s third round of funding. It is estimated that the USDA will make close to $1 billion in loans, grants and combination loan/grants available for last mile broadband funding in late summer 2021. On February 26, 2021, the USDA announced it was inviting comments on the proposed rules for round three ReConnect loan and grant program. Comments are due by April 27, 2021, and may be submitted through Regulations.gov. The USDA will host a webinar on April 14, 2021, providing an in-depth look at the ReConnect program and providing guidance on how to submit public comments.
Awards are posted on the USDA ReConnect Program webpage.
Colorado ReConnect Awards
For more information about ReConnect in Colorado, visit our Colorado ReConnect webpage.
On October 13, 2020, Emery Telecommunications & Video Inc. (Emery) was awarded a $6.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect 1,638 people, 91 farms, 52 businesses, three fire stations and two post offices in Dolores, San Miguel and Montezuma counties in Colorado. Emery will provide a $2.1 million match making the total project cost $8.4 million.
On October 29, 2020, Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA) was awarded a $6 million ReConnect grant to provide gigabit FTTP, expanding northwestern Colorado’s rural broadband access to 264 homes, farms and businesses located in Routt, Moffat and Eagle counties in Colorado. YVEA will provide a $2 million match making the total project cost $8 million.
On November 25, 2019, Emery Telecommunications & Video Inc., (Emery) was awarded a $2.7 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect 528 households, 20 farms and ranches, 15 small businesses, as well as the fire department, Sheriff’s office and schools in Dove Creek, Colorado.
Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant (DLT)
On March 5, the USDA announced that it will commit over $44 million its next round of distance learning and telemedicine (DLT) program grants to increase access to education, training and health care in rural areas. The application window closes June 4. Of the $44 million, $10.2 million will focus funding to projects that provide substance use disorder treatment services in rural areas. The per grant application limit is $1 million and broadband facilities/access are given equal footing to DLT equipment. This is new, in previous DLT grant cycles facilities/access was limited to 10% of grant application. More details: Fact Sheet.
The USDA’s DLT program helps rural communities (populations of 20,000 or less and not contiguous and adjacent to urban areas with populations greater than 50,000) connect to each other and to the world, by providing 100% grant (15% match) funding for distance learning equipment and broadband connectivity to link teachers and medical service providers in one area to students and patients in another. Eligible applicants include most entities that provide education or health care through telecommunications, including: state and local governmental entities, federally-recognized Tribes, non-profits, for-profit businesses, and consortia of eligible entities. See the USDA map of recently funded DLT projects. A complete list of DLT awards can be found here.
Over $57 million was appropriated to the USDA DLT program through the Supplemental Appropriations Act. The application window, for fiscal year 2021, is expected to open in March 2021. Eligible applicants will be given 60 days to apply following the release of the funding opportunity announcement (FOA).
Colorado DLT Awards FY21
On February 25, the USDA Rural Development announced awards of 86 projects for a total of $42 million in DLT grants awards. Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO was awarded a $950,060 DLT grant which will fund four rural connectivity centers in La Plata and Conejos Counties in Colorado and Apache County in Arizona, and San Juan County in New Mexico, allowing 3,270 students to attend synchronous, fully online, face-to-face classes. This project will also allow students to access their professors and engage with the services that students on-campus have access to, including the student health center, faculty office hours, and academic support such as tutoring and library services.
On October, 7, 2020, the Colorado Department of Corrections was awarded $985,455 to provide telemedicine services to 17 correction facilities in 12 counties. The project will provide medical assessments, wellness visits, treatment follow-up, remote patient monitoring, mental health screenings, case management services, advanced care planning, and health risk assessment. This award will allow the Colorado Department of Corrections to improve health care by providing access to more health care, preventive medicine, and access to medical specialists, while reducing prisoner transport and related security management costs.
On December 27, 2020, Congress appropriated $35 million for the Community Connect Grant Program funding year 2021. The 2021 funding year application window opened September 24 and closed December 23, 2020. The USDA received more than $146 million in funding requests and award announcements are expected later this summer. The Community Connect grant has an award ceiling of $3,000,000 and an award floor of $100,000 for this funding cycle, requiring a 15% match. A key change in the program is that the USDA will no longer consider the availability of cellular service, as a disqualifier, in the proposed funding service area.
Eligible entities include public and state controlled institutions of higher education, city or township governments, special district governments, nonprofits institutions of higher education, Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments) and any other legal entity, including cooperatives, private corporations, or limited liability companies organized on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis. The Funding Opportunity Announcement can be found at this link.
Federal Communications Commission
Programs Administered by Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)
- E-rate: Ensuring that schools and libraries across the U.S. are connected to information and resources through the internet.
- The application window for funding year 2021, closed on Thursday, March 25, 2021.
- Rural Health Care: Supporting healthcare facilities in bringing world class medical care to rural areas through increased connectivity.
Recent Updates: The application window for funding year 2021 is open, closing on June 1, 2021 at 11:59:59 p.m. EDT. Recordings of previous trainings can be found here.
- Lifeline: Lowering the monthly cost of phone or internet service
- High Cost: Expanding networks in underserved areas so that all people in the U.S. have access to affordable voice and broadband
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is the FCC’s next step in attempting to bridge the digital divide to fund the deployment of broadband networks in rural America. Through a two-phase reverse auction mechanism, the FCC directed up to $20.4 billion over ten years to finance up to gigabit speed broadband networks in unserved rural areas, connecting millions of American homes and businesses to digital opportunity.
The Phase I RDOF auction began on October 29, 2020, targeting $16 billion to deploy networks to serve up to 10.25 million homes and businesses in census blocks designated as entirely unserved by the FCC, lacking voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
Auction winners submitted a long-form application to the FCC in late January 2021, including additional information about the company’s qualifications, funding, and technical specifications about their proposed network. The FCC is in the process of evaluating the long-form filings. RDOF funding will not be distributed until the FCC approves and authorizes funding. Post authorization the carrier will be required to meet periodic buildout requirements and reach all assigned locations by the end of the sixth year.
For more information about RDOF in Colorado, visit our Colorado RDOF webpage.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP)
Congress directed the FCC to create a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) to help low-income consumers afford broadband service and connected internet devices. The EBBP will provide a discount of up to $50 per month, or $75 per month in tribal areas, toward the cost of broadband service for eligible households and provides $100 toward the purchase of a connected device for qualifying households. A program start date hasn’t been announced. Resources: Consumer Fact Sheet, Provider EBB Participation, and a list of EBB providers.
So far the FCC has approved over 300 ISP EBB provider applications, a list of the Colorado EBB provider participants can be found here. Broadband providers that are already designated as Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETC) are automatically eligible to participate in the EBB program.
The USAC will host a number of webinars and trainings for the EBBP. Visit the USAC website for upcoming webinars and recordings of past webinars.
- EBB Program for Consumer Groups: targeted to consumer advocates, social service agencies, consumer groups and others to support EBB enrollment (April 21 @ 3 p.m. ET: Register here).
- National Verifier for the EBB Program: to prepare service providers to use the National Verifier in the EBB Program (April 13 @ 4 p.m. ET: Register here). The webinar is designed for all EBB Program service providers and will include step-by-step instructions to enroll consumers into the EBB Program along with information about transferring, updating, and de-enrolling EBB Program subscribers.
COVID-19 Telehealth Program
The FCC will commit over $249 million to health care providers per the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133). On March 30, the FCC issued a report and order (R&O) providing application guidelines and establishing an abbreviated, 7-day application window. The application window is expected to be noticed before April 30.
The R&O establishes the framework for the distribution of the $249.95 million for round two funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The R&O addresses topics such as, a system for rating applications, factoring in the hardest hit and lowest income areas, Tribal communities, health care provider shortage areas, unfunded Round 1 applicants, and equitable nationwide distribution of funding. The FCC adopted a set of objective and transparent evaluation metrics which will be used to evaluate each Round 2 application. The FCC replaced the rolling approval system used in Round 1 with a fixed seven day application window to allow for a comprehensive review of all applications in one round, and established a two-phase system for awarding funding in order to satisfy the statutory requirement that applicants be given an opportunity to provide additional information if the application will initially be denied, and to award funding as soon as possible. The $1 million per application cap remains in effect for Round 2, however the $1 million cap will not take into account Round 1 awards.
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program was established with a $200 million appropriation in last year’s CARES Act. The FCC funded 539 health care providers in 47 states for a total of $200 million by July 2020, see final list. Twelve Colorado healthcare providers serving the communities of Alamosa, Aurora, Boulder, Lafayette, Leadville, Montrose, Pueblo, Westminster, and Wheat Ridge, received over $3.9 million in awards, more details here.
Connected Care Pilot Program
On November 5, 2020, the FCC announced the opening of the application window for its newly created Connected Care Pilot Program (CCPP). The application window closed December 7, 2020 and on January 15, 2021 the FCC announced the selection of 14 applications, which include 23 separate pilot projects, for a total of over $25 million in awards focusing on remote monitoring and telemedicine projects that address critical health conditions such as high-risk pregnancy, mental health conditions, opioid dependency, COVID-19, and chronic conditions predominately serving low income and veterans.
Emergency Connectivity Fund
The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a $7.171 billion program to close the “homework gap” by helping schools and libraries provide devices and connectivity to students, school staff, and library patrons during the pandemic. Congress appropriated over $7 billion to the FCC through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). The ECF will expand the E-rate program to include internet connectivity for remote learning students (or library patrons). The current E-rate program focuses on funding connectivity and equipment for school and library facilities only. The ECF directs the FCC to reimburse 100% of the costs associated with the purchase of eligible equipment and/or advanced telecommunications and information services. Eligible equipment is defined as: (1) Wi-Fi hotspots, (2) modems, (3) routers, (4) devices that combine a modem and router, and (5) connected devices. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) will administer the program on behalf of the FCC. The FCC issued a public notice on March 16 requesting comments. Comments were due April 5, with reply comments due April 23, comments should reference WC Docket No. 21-93.
Broadband Data Collection
The FCC was appropriated over $98 million in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133) to fund the implementation of improved broadband mapping as directed by the Broadband DATA Act. During the February FCC Open Meeting the FCC Broadband Data Task Force was established to begin the process of collecting and disseminating granular broadband service availability data to improve the FCC’s broadband data mapping. It is expected that the FCC will implement improved broadband data collection tools within “months” rather than “years” as initially anticipated. The FCC launched a consumer tool recently making it easier for consumers to submit crowdsourced data on broadband network performance from both mobile and in-home broadband networks.
On April 9, 2021, FCC published a new round of “Fixed Broadband Deployment Data” for Census blocks throughout the U.S. The new data reflects broadband providers’ Form 477 filings for June 2020. The FCC’s interactive broadband map is updated with the new data.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Broadband and Connectivity Programs
The NTIA will make over $1.5 billion available through three new grant programs:
- Broadband Infrastructure Program: $300 million directed to partnerships between a state, or one or more political subdivisions of a state, and providers of fixed broadband service to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas;
- Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program: $1 billion directed to tribal governments to be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion;
- Connecting Minority Communities Program: $285 million directed to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) for the purchase of broadband internet access service and eligible equipment or to hire and train information technology personnel.
The NTIA will hold a series of webinars in the coming months focused on these new grant programs. Notices of funding opportunity (NOFO) for these new programs are expected mid April, with application cycles opening in the summer. Program applicants will have 90 days post NOFO to file an application.