Broadband Opportunities Across the State

28 Jun 2021, by Sara Westbrook Share :

In 1936, the Rural Electrification Act (REA) was passed to bring electricity to farms. Ninety percent of farms in the United States did not have access to electricity because it was too cost prohibitive to take electrical lines out to these rural areas. By the 1950’s eighty percent of farms had electricity and those numbers continued to increase. Electricity brought new opportunities for farming to advance and prosper. The technology used in farming today is astounding and a critical component of running a successful farm.

With the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) received, or on the way, and new grant opportunities from the newly formed Idaho Broadband Advisory Committee, counties across the state have a once in a generation opportunity to bring broadband to greatly underserved areas just as the REA brought electricity to the underserved during the last century. Let’s dive deeper into opportunities that are currently available.

American Recovery Plan Act

Many counties in Idaho recently received their first traunch of funds through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Broadband infrastructure is an allowable use under ARPA. IAC is working closely with Eide Bailly to develop guidance that is more specific to questions that are being asked here in Idaho.

The U.S. Treasury has provided FAQs on the Interim Final Rule, however, this rule has not been finalized. It is still open for public comment until July 16th. Until the Rule is finalized, Eide Bailly will not be able to finalize their custom guidance. In the meantime, we recommend that you check out U.S. Treasury FAQs regarding the use of funds. For information and further clarification regarding the use of funds for broadband infrastructure, see Section 6 in the FAQs starting at 6.2 through 6.12.

Idaho Broadband Grant Program

The Idaho Broadband Grant Program is currently accepting grant applications for a CARES Act grant of $10 million. Unlike the grants from last year, there is not a ceiling on how much a county can apply for with this grant. To qualify, the project needs to be shovel-ready and completed by December 15, 2021. Counties can provide their own match dollars if desired (including ARPA funds), but it is not required.

This grant window will not be open for long. Counties will need to go through the RFP process, so if you are interested in applying for this grant, I recommend diving into this ASAP. The grant portal opened on June 18, 2021 and closes on July 16, 2021.

The recently created Idaho Broadband Advisory Committee also has an additional $35 million of state revenue that will be available for the grant process likely within the next few months. Since these grant dollars will be allocated from state funds, there will not be the tight deadline required by the CARES Act grant. Currently, the Idaho Broadband Committee is requesting input for broadband infrastructure needs across the state along with possible projects. Check out this link for more information regarding what the state is looking for.

If you have any questions regarding any of these broadband opportunities, please do not hesitate to reach out to Sara Westbrook at swestbrook@idcounties.org or reach her on her office line at 208-514-0354. She can also be reached on her cell at 208-695-6733.

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