In previous years, the most significant barrier to rural and greenfield broadband deployment was securing funding assistance. In 2021, the biggest challenge is being "shovel ready" to apply for one of the many federal and state broadband grant programs when the application window opens.
With the heightened urgency of connecting unserved and underserved households in a global pandemic, there are several factors at play for network operators who are considering applying for upcoming broadband grants and funding.
+ Application readiness is key to success: Funding program requirements vary, however most applications at minimum require a fully developed budget, identification of partners (if applicable), company financials, and a comprehensive project plan and schedule. Beyond that, you need an eligibility assessment of the area you seek to build in, including broadband speeds and previously granted federal programs that may have overlapping census blocks. Some grants may even require you to have community letters of support to demonstrate need.
+ Funding and grant programs are becoming extremely competitive: Anyone seeking funding in 2021 needs to be 100% prepared before the application window opens.
+ Compressed grant timelines: In 2020, the Cares Act broadband grant money distributed through the States required projects to be completed by December 30, 2020, within just six months. This proved to be a particular challenge for materials procurement in a high-demand environment, and many vendors passed on the opportunities. The COVID relief bill signed in on December 27, extended the Cares Act funding for another year - however, the extension came too late for applicants who initially decided to pass on the opportunity due to the rigid deadline.
+ Delivery milestones need to be adhered to, and networks need to have confidence that they have the right partnership and delivery approaches in place ahead of the application.
These considerations are particularly true of the recently announced NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) broadband infrastructure grant program set to roll out in the next month requiring successful participants to expend grant funds within one year of the award.
NTIA's Broadband Infrastructure Funding Program
Section 905 (d) of the COVID Relief Bill signed into law on December 27, 2020, allocates $300 million for broadband infrastructure grants. The application window is expected to open in the next 30-45 days.
While the rules for the program should be published in advance or in line with the application window opening, here are some key points we know right now. Grants are available for projects in eligible service areas and will favor projects prioritizing:
+ Broadband service to the highest number of households in eligible service areas
+ Areas that are the most rural
+ Broadband service with a download speed of not less than 100 megabits per second and an upload speed of not less than 20 megabits per second.
NTIA, like nearly all federal and state grants, will have stringent delivery milestones and performance metrics to track and considerable reporting obligations to remain compliant.
Render’s advantage for NTIA participants
When applying for funding or grant programs, building technology-enabled efficiencies into your application can provide a competitive advantage. Render's proven digital construction management platform delivers significant value to broadband providers at all stages of the funding and delivery process, including:
- Planning and scoping accuracy: Prepare your project plan and budget with confidence to enable a competitive application while maintaining build flexibility and a sufficient margin.
- Real-time, geospatial project visibility: Seamless real-time tracking of progress against priority service areas enables early identification of at-risk delivery.
- Templated, NTIA compliant reporting: Customized data capture including the customer type, latitude and longitude, priority locations, and distance from network facilities significantly streamline your NTIA reporting and compliance requirements. Attempting to achieve this with paper construction prints, Microsoft Project or multiple Excel sheets will require up to 75% more resource and introduce significant risk.
- Confidence to meet NTIA milestones: Render's platform captures critical geospatial As-built and post-award data in real-time, providing significant cost and deployment efficiencies and reducing timelines by up to 50%. An accelerated network delivery will provide an opportunity to meet the 1-year delivery timeline and achieve 'break-even' sooner while connecting your community to reliable, high-speed internet faster.
If applying for an NTIA grant, Render can provide a detailed scope for your project plan and post-award reporting requirements to help your application stand out. Render also teams with vendors that can help you draft your grant application if you need a referral.
Interested in the significant time, cost, and quality improvements of a digital approach? Contact us today for more information