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Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains answers to questions submitted by interested ReConnect Program applicants during webinars, regional workshops, and via the Contact Us form on the ReConnect website. The questions and answers are organized by topic of interest and are updated on a regular basis, as we collect new questions.

To preview a portion of current questions and answers, click the plus sign (+) next to your topic of interest. You may also download the full version of the Frequently Asked Questions document below which includes all available Q&As:

Download Full Version of FAQs (PDF, 235 KB)

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ReConnect Program Overview

 
  • A: The ReConnect Program is a broadband pilot program that offers federal loans, grants, and combinations thereof to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas. ReConnect loans and grants provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service to rural areas without sufficient broadband access, defined as 10 Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
  • A: USDA will offer loans and grants to build infrastructure and install equipment that provides modern, reliable, high-speed Internet service in rural America. The ReConnect program offers three products: 100% Loans, 50% Loan-50% Grant combinations, and 100% Grants. More information about the three products can be found on the ReConnect website at reconnect.usda.gov.
  • A: Yes, there were a number of changes in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) published on December 12, 2019. Here is a high-level summary of the changes, however, RUS encourages you to review the FOA closely as you prepare to apply. Those changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • The application window for the three categories of funding will be from January 31, 2020 through March 31, 2020.
    • Definitions have been added for healthcare and educational facilities and the name for critical community facilities has been changed to essential community facilities.
    • For 100 percent grants, 90 percent of the proposed funded service area cannot have sufficient access to broadband, as opposed to 100 percent under round one.
    • The requirement for two years of unqualified, comparative, audited financial statements has been changed to unqualified, comparative, audited financial statements for the previous year from the date the application has been submitted.
    • The requirement that applicants must submit certifications from the appropriate state or tribal broadband office has been changed to a voluntary request.
    • Pre-application expenses that were incurred for round one, but benefit an application for round two, may be funded up to the 5 percent of the total award in round 2.
    • Under certain conditions a subsidiary can use the unqualified, comparative, audited statements to meet certain eligibility requirements.
    • The scoring criteria for farms has been changed. Applicants will receive 1 point for every 10 farms served up to a maximum of 20 points. Farms will be counted using 2017 Census of Agriculture data.
    • Tribal leaders can submit documentation supporting scoring points for the number of healthcare, educational and essential community facilities.
    • The time period incumbent service providers will be able to challenge if sufficient service is present in an applicant’s proposed funded service area is being increased from 30 days to 45 days


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Eligibility

 
  • A: As defined in the 2019 FOA (published on December 12, 2019), the following entities are eligible to apply for assistance:

    • States, local governments, or any agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision thereof
    • A territory or possession of the United States
    • An Indian tribe (as defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b))
    • Non-profit entities
    • For-profit corporations
    • Limited liability companies;
    • Cooperative or mutual organizations

    Individuals and legal partnerships are not eligible for ReConnect funding. In addition, co-applicants are not eligible. If two entities would like to partner with each other in delivering broadband to areas without sufficient access, then one entity must take the lead on submitting an application. In this case, intercompany agreements can be used to account for revenues and expenses on the applicant’s financial projections.

  • A: Individuals are not eligible for funding under this program.
  • A: Yes. An entity may submit only one application. Although the online application system will allow you to create multiple applications, you can only submit one.


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Application

 
  • A: To access the application system, Applicants will need a USDA Level II eAuthentication ID, which can be obtained at www.eauth.usda.gov. All Online Application System users are required to have a Level II eAuth.

    Additionally, to file an application Applicants will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN), obtainable at tax-irs-ein.com; a Dun & Bradstreet Number (DUNS Number), obtainable at fedgov.dnb.com/webform; a current active registration in the System for Award Management (SAM), obtainable at sam.gov/sam; and, a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code, obtainable in SAM.

  • A: Begin by reviewing the 2019 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), published on December 12, 2019 for current program and eligibility requirements. The FOA and other resources, including program information, fact sheets, and technical assistance materials are available on the ReConnect website at reconnect.usda.gov. All applications must be submitted through the RUS Online Application System, which opened on January 31, 2020 and will close on March 31, 2020.

    After the application window has opened, applicants can create an account in the application system by submitting an Authorized Representative Request (ARR). Applicants cannot begin working on an application in the system until the ARR is approved. Keep in mind, ARR approval takes approximately two business days.

  • A: Yes, consultants may be granted access to the Online Application System by an applicant. Once assigned the role of “Consultant” within the system, an individual consultant can access multiple applications within the system. Please note, all individuals who log into the system must have a USDA Level II eAuthentication credential. Additionally, Consultants must NOT enter the portal until they receive an email indicating that the applicant has assigned them a consultant role in the system. Otherwise, these individuals risk being locked out of the portal. If locked out of the portal, submit a Help Desk ticket through the ReConnect website at www.usda.gov/reconnect/contact-us.


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Mapping

 
  • A: To be eligible for ReConnect Funding, a Proposed Funded Service Area (PFSA) must be (1) rural and (2) lack sufficient access to broadband service:

    1. According to the 2019 FOA, a rural area is any area which is not located within: (1) A city, town, or incorporated area that has a population of greater than 20,000 inhabitants; or (2) an urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants.
    2. Sufficient access to broadband is defined in the FOA as any rural area in which households have fixed, terrestrial broadband service delivering at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. Mobile and satellite services will not be considered in making the determination of sufficient access to broadband. Note, for all funding categories, 90% of households within each proposed service area must lack sufficient access to broadband.

    In addition, a PFSA may not include areas that have been previously funded by other RUS telecommunications programs, or areas covered by CAF II Auction 903 winners. The RUS Mapping Tool shows all ineligible areas and the FOA has detailed information on all eligibility requirements. Ineligible areas include:

    • Non-rural areas
    • Overlapping service areas
    • Areas where there are pending applications for USDA Rural Utilities Service programs
    • Protected Broadband Borrowers
    • CAF II Auction 903 Winners
  • A: For the ReConnect Program only, an RUS broadband loan means any loan that has been approved or is currently under review by RUS after the beginning of Fiscal Year 2000 in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Program, Farm Bill Broadband Program, Broadband Initiatives Program or the ReConnect Program. Loans that were approved and then subsequently fully de-obligated are not included in this definition. RUS electric loans are also not included in this definition. If a borrower’s service area is eligible for protection under the ReConnect Program, the borrower’s entire service territory is protected. The service areas of Community Connect grant recipients still under build-out are also protected. The Eligibility Area Map located on the ReConnect website at reconnect.usda.gov provides map layers for each protected type of current RUS borrower, as well as a layer that shows tribal lands. Additional layers show CAF II Auction 903 winners and features that contribute to evaluation criteria scores.

  • A: Yes, for areas within the boundaries of a CAF II Census Block Group, only the CAF II Winner is eligible to apply but the CAF II Winner may only request a 100% loan. The exception to this requirement is if the CAF II Auction 903 area overlaps with a Protected Broadband Borrower’s service area. In this case, the Protected Broadband Borrower is the only entity allowed to apply in that area. The CAF II Auction 903 and Protected Broadband Borrower service areas can be found on the RUS Mapping Tool at reconnect.usda.gov.



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Financial Requirements

 
  • A: Yes, there are three options for an applicant regarding financial statements:
    1. Applicant must submit audited financial statements for the previous year from the date the application has been submitted. For the FY2020 round, the applicant would be required to submit its 2019 audit.
    2. If an application is submitted in the first quarter of the calendar year and the most recent yearend audit has not been completed, the applicant can submit the two previous unqualified audits that have been completed. For the FY2020 round, the applicant would be required to submit its 2018 audit as well as an engagement letter with the CPA to demonstrate that the 2019 audit has been started. If for some reason the round 2 deadline is extended past March 31, 2020, the applicant would still be required to submit its 2019 audit.
    3. An applicant can use the consolidated financials of the parent as long as the parent fully guarantees the loan, or in the case of a grant, guarantees that construction will be completed as approved in the application or will repay the grant to RUS.
  • A: A subsidiary may use consolidated financials of the parent company if the parent fully guarantees the loan, or in the case of a grant, guarantees construction will be completed. The consolidated schedules (Balance Sheets, Income Statements, and Statement of Cash Flow) must contain enough detail, including notes to the financial statements regarding subsidiary activities, to enable USDA to determine the creditworthiness of the subsidiary.
  • A: The question regarding real property is intended to determine whether or not a mortgage would be required if the project is awarded. To satisfy this requirement, applicants should upload a copy of the company’s real estate deeds and Real Property Schedule. If however, the real estate deeds are voluminous in size, a Real Property Schedule that lists all of the applicant's real property is satisfactory at the time of application submission.


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Environmental Requirements

 
  • A: Project maps or site plans are required to identify cable routes, building locations, tower locations, equipment locations, and all structures and facilities that are part of the project. Applicants will be required to draw sites and routes using the Construction Mapping Tool in the ReConnect Online Application System. The Application System will also require that applicants provide specific information on the cable routes and facility locations including the completion of Environmental Questionnaires (EQs). All project activities, specific project locations, and supporting documentation must be provided to assist the Agency’s analysis of potential impacts on the environment, including whether a categorical exclusion applies to an area in a proposed project. The Application Guide addresses the specific requirements for the environmental portion of the application.
  • A: An applicant must provide an environmental analysis of all proposed funded service areas (PFSAs) within an application to be eligible. A recent environmental study could be used to satisfy or support the environmental information requested; but additional information will be required for areas not supported by the existing study at the time of the application. Applicants should also update any changes since the current study, so all current environmental information is represented within the application.
  • A: Yes. If an applicant indicates “Yes” for either the Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) questions on the application, the applicant must contact RUS at reconnectenvironmental@usda.gov for further guidance. The Application System will require an upload as proof that the applicant has contacted USDA.
  • A: The Application System automatically determines whether your project requires a Section 106 Environmental Questionnaire (EQ). Below are all of the Site/Route description scenarios that would trigger a Section 106 EQ to be completed for a proposed project.

    Please note that these are the system requirements. If you believe the system is requiring a Section 106 EQ in error, or have any additional questions about this issue, please submit a question through the Contact Us form within the Application System.

    Sites and/or Routes:

    • Is asset located on Tribal land – Yes, Section 106 becomes required.
    • Is asset located on or cross Federally Managed Land – Yes, Section 106 becomes required.

    Routes:

    • Is the route in a previously developed, existing right-of-way? No, a new right-of-way or easement will be required, Section 106 becomes required.
    • No matter the answer for question, "Is the route in a previously developed, existing right-of-way?", if the installation method is either 'Aerial Cables on New Poles' or 'Underwater', Section 106 becomes required.
    • No matter the answer for question, "Is the route in a previously-developed, existing right-of-way?" if the answer to question, "Will associated cabinets or underground vaults be installed nearby in previously-disturbed or developed land?” is either ‘No’ or ‘Both in disturbed and undisturbed land’, Section 106 becomes required.

    Site - Building:

    • Is this an existing site or a site to be constructed? To Be Constructed
    • Will the improvements require ground disturbance? Yes
    • Is a FCC license required for any of the equipment? Yes
    • Please select the type(s) of generator(s) that will be installed: Primary generator
    • Are you collocating, upgrading, or installing a new antenna? New
    • *WHEN* What is the estimated year in which the existing tower was constructed? >49 years old

    Site - Tower:

    • Is this an existing tower or a tower to be constructed? To Be Constructed
    • Is a FCC license required for this tower/pole? Yes
    • Is a FCC license required for any of the equipment? Yes
    • Please select the type(s) of generator(s) that will be installed: Primary generator
    • Are you collocating, upgrading, or installing a new antenna? New
    • *WHEN* What is the estimated year in which the existing tower was constructed? >49 years old

    Site - Access Road/Parking Lot:

    • Is this an upgrade to an existing access road/parking lot, construction of a new access road/parking lot, or expansion of a new access road/parking lot? 'Construction of a new access road/parking lot' or ‘Expansion of a new access road/parking lot'

    Site - Large Enclosure:

    • Is this an existing cabinet or a cabinet to be constructed? To Be Constructed
    • Please select the type(s) of generator(s) that will be installed: Primary generator
    • Will the improvements require ground disturbance? Yes
    • Is a FCC license required for any of the equipment? Yes


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Evaluation Criteria

 
  • A: Applications for the 50/50 loan-grant combination and 100% grants will be scored and ranked against the following criteria. Please consult the FY2020 FOA for details on the criteria:
    • Rurality of Proposed Funded Service Area (25 Points): Applicants receive 25 points for serving the least dense rural areas as measured by the population of the PFSA per square mile, or if the PFSA is located at least one hundred miles from a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants.
    • Farms Served (20 Points): Applicants receive 1 point for every 10 farms served up to a maximum of 20 points. Farms will be counted using the GIS layer located in the RUS Mapping Tool, which is based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture data.
    • Performance of the Offered Service (20 Points): Applicants receive 20 points for projects that propose to build a network capable of providing at least 100 Mbps symmetrical service to all premises. Note that the certification from the professional engineer (PE) must certify that the proposed system can deliver these speeds to every premise in the PFSA.
    • Businesses (15 Points): Applicants receive 1 point for each business that pre-subscribes for broadband service up to a maximum of 15 points. Applicants are required to submit signed presubscription forms to receive points for businesses.
    • Healthcare Centers (15 Points): Applicants receive 1 point for every healthcare center served for a maximum of 15 points. Healthcare centers will be identified using the GIS layer located in the RUS Mapping Tool.
    • Educational Facilities (15 Points): Applicants receive 1 point for every educational facility served for a maximum of 15 points. Educational facilities will be identified using the GIS layer located in the RUS Mapping Tool.
    • Essential Community Facilities (15 Points): Applicants receive 1 point for every essential community facility served for a maximum of 15 points. Facilities will be identified using the GIS layer located in the RUS Mapping Tool.
    • Opportunity Zones (5 Points): Applicants receive 5 points for an application that proposes to provide service in at least part of an area identified as an Opportunity Zone. Opportunity Zones will be analyzed using the GIS layer located in the Mapping Tool. This criterion is new; it was added in the FY2020 FOA.
    • State or Tribal Broadband Activity (20 Points): Applicants receive up to 20 points for State or tribal broadband activity, broken down as follows:
      • 10 points for projects that are in a State or tribal area that has a broadband plan that has been updated within five years of the date of publication of this FOA;
      • An additional 5 points for projects located in states that do not restrict utilities from delivering broadband service;
      • And, 5 more points for projects located in states that expedite right-of way and environmental requirements.
    Applicants are required to submit evidence from the appropriate State or tribal official demonstrating the above stipulations. If the project is in multiple states, an applicant must supply supporting information for each state in the project. For projects located wholly in tribal areas, a letter from a tribal leader may be used to claim points.
  • A: For the purposes of the ReConnect Program, rurality is measured in one of two ways: 1) if the population of the proposed funded service area per square mile is 6 or less, or 2) if the proposed funded service area is located at least 100 miles from a population center (a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants). If multiple service areas are proposed, the density calculation will be made on the combined areas as if they were a single area, and not the average densities. Please note, areas with population densities with fewer people per square mile will receive the same number of points as areas with 6 people per square mile. No partial points will be awarded for other densities.

    Additionally, applications can only receive the score once and will not receive extra points for satisfying both criteria described above. For the FY2020 FOA, a layer has been added to the Service Area Mapping Tool that shows distance from population centers. The Application System will automatically calculate rurality points.

  • A: There is not a challenge process for missing farms in these datasets, and there will not be an opportunity under this FOA to submit additional farms for consideration. An exception to this is if the missing farm is located on tribal land. If this is the case, an applicant can submit documentation from the tribal leader identifying the missing farm.


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Technical Assistance

 
  • A: Internet Explorer and Safari are not recommended browsers for using the Application System. Applicants should use Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge to successfully complete the application.
  • A: You can submit your ReConnect program questions by using the Contact Us Form located at www.usda.gov/reconnect/contact-us. USDA also encourages you to reach out to your General Field Representative (GFR) or State office for more guidance related to your specific community. A list of GFRs, their service areas, and their contact information can be found here: www.rd.usda.gov/contact-us/telecom-gfr/all; State office contact information can be found here: www.rd.usda.gov/contact-us/state-offices.
  • A: USDA is conducting a series of webinars addressing specific ReConnect topics, please visit the Events page to register for a webinar, and continue checking back for more topics that will become available. Additionally, recordings of past webinars are currently available on the Webinar Materials page.

    You can also register to receive updates about the program, including upcoming workshops and webinars, on the ReConnect website by clicking the "Stay up to date" link toward the bottom of the home page at reconnect.usda.gov. Additional resources can be found on the ReConnect website.



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