The digital divide is affecting rural communities everywhere. However, rural electric cooperatives are in a unique position to help close that divide. In fact, according to a recent NRECA study, about $68 billion in economic value will be lost to the 6.3 million co-op member households without broadband over the next 20 years if they remain unserved or underserved. If you are looking into deploying fiber, conducting a feasibility study is the first step. After receiving a positive feasibility study, you need to find funding. But where do you turn? What are your options? Here is a rundown of different sources of funding and how they can help you build your network.
What is it? The Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, is a USDA agency that administers programs that provide infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities, including telecommunications.
How can it help you? The telecommunications-specific loan and grant programs that RUS offers are:
- Community Connect Grants which help fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service.
- Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants which help rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density.
- Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantees which furnish loans and loan guarantees to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide service at the broadband lending speed in eligible rural areas.
- Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Guarantees which provide financing for the construction, maintenance, improvement, and expansion of telephone service and broadband in rural areas.
- ReConnect which aims to expand broadband service to rural areas without sufficient broadband access, defined as 10 megabits per second downstream and 1 megabit per second upstream. There are three separate funding categories: 100% loan, 50% loan/50% grant, and 100% grant.
What is it? CoBank provides financial services to cooperatives, helping their customers to connect Rural America to the world. This helps rural businesses compete in the global market, and community members to access services like long-distance learning and telemedicine.
How can it help you? CoBank finances the construction, operation, and maintenance of vital communications systems throughout rural America, including the expansion of fiber optic networks and broadband internet along with upgrades in wireless technology.
These are just some of the funding options available. There are also state-specific programs, and electric cooperatives like Co-Mo Connect, have self-funded their networks.
Do you need help finding funding? Leverage the expertise of our extended team of partners. Click here to speak to an expert about potential partner resources.