Broadband expansion, particularly to rural and underserved areas, has been a big focus in grantmaking since the beginning of COVID. The pandemic and, in particular, the distance learning and telemedicine efforts that resulted from the need to socially distance placed a spotlight on those in small towns and other geographic areas where internet service was spotty at best. As the need for Zoom calls and remote video communicate increased, those who didn’t have the bandwidth (or any internet service at all) were placed at a strong disadvantage to those in larger communities with greater access to internet services.
In response to the dire need for broadband expansion to those in need, the federal government has expanded federal programs and earmarked COVID aid programs such as the CARES Act funds for expansion of internet services. Programs at both the federal and state levels (USDA ReConnect, NTIA’s Infrastructure Bill programs and state broadband expansion programs for example) have been and continue to be announced.
The funding is out there, but, as a broadband provider, how do you access this funding to support your planned expansion efforts? As a seasoned grant writer who has followed these programs extensively, I have a few recommendations to increase your chances of finding and getting a grant to fund your expansion.
Review Broadband Grant Funding Opportunities Carefully
It is easy to briefly look at a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) and think, “Wow, that is a perfect fit for what I want to do”. But it is VERY important that you carefully review these documents to see if it is truly a good fit!
I highly recommend reviewing funding opportunities at least twice. The first time, review the funder’s eligibility guidelines to make sure you, as a for-profit or small business entity, are eligible to apply for the grant. In addition, look at the required attachments and the narrative requirements to make sure you can supply the required documents. For example, be sure the program’s geographic expansion targets match where you want to or can expand. Finally, look at the deadline for the application. If it is in less than two weeks, it is unlikely you will have time to collect the needed data and compile a winning application.
After you have confirmed you are eligible, have the information the funder requires and have time to apply, then you need to go through the narrative very carefully. I recommend using two colors of highlighters during this review – one to designate the required information to submit with the application and one for the important information (font size, page limits, deadlines, program intent, etc).
Do Your Pre-Planning Before Applying for Broadband Grants
Even if you don’t know of any current programs that are a good fit for you, you can still prepare for upcoming solicitations. Most funding programs require audited financials for the past 2-3 years. If yours are not audited, you might consider getting them audited, as that can take time you may not have when trying to submit a proposal by the deadline.
In a similar vein, you can and should start planning your broadband expansion territory prior to looking for grant funding. This will help you during the evaluation activities mentioned in my first point. It will also help you target upcoming programs that are based on geography.
Find and Engage Potential Broadband Expansion Partners
You greatly open up your world of funding opportunities by finding partners that can help you qualify to get your broadband expansion funded. For example, many of the past and upcoming NTIA programs only allow states or other government subdivisions to apply. I highly recommend wireless and fiber internet service providers interested in participating in any expansion programs engage their state broadband expansion office to introduce themselves and explain their expansion plans. This greatly increases the likelihood of being notified of grant funding opportunities and successfully partnering with states to obtain funding for expansion.
Other potential partners include libraries (who often qualify for funding for broadband activities); non-profit organizations; hospitals and schools (who can apply for USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine funding); and county/local leaders as some state programs only allow these entities to apply and who may need providers to partner with to ensure effective project implementation
No matter the size of your company, you could apply for broadband grant funding, especially if you follow the suggestions above. My company, Lakeview Consulting, helps you navigate the funding research and application process, including addressing the suggestions above. To find out more, complete the Contact Me form below.
I wish you much luck and success in your funding search!