Our Eastern Kentucky economy is full of potential.
There are a lot of native Eastern Kentuckians who want to make this region their home for good. While in the past, they’ve had to leave to find an economically feasible job to match their skill set, that’s no longer the case.
The remote work economy means that jobs across industries, skills, and pay scales are now available to anyone who wants to live in our region.
All we need to make it happen is reliable, fast broadband in every county. And while the traditional barriers to last-mile broadband still exist, more and more funding opportunities are becoming available.
In fact, Eastern Kentucky communities don’t have to fund broadband implementation efforts on their own. This guide will walk you through how to apply for broadband funding to help lay fiber and pay for operations.
Prepare to Apply for Funding
SOAR provides the resources you need to get yourself ready and submit competitive applications. Follow the steps we outline carefully.
You’ll need to start by designating a group of highly-engaged individuals to be on a fiber board for your county.
Choose your members thoughtfully. Sitting on your county’s fiber board isn’t a symbolic figurehead position. It comes with significant responsibilities. This group of people will need the connections, know-how, and motivation to see this effort through from start to finish.
To start, your fiber board will need to be in charge of planning efforts, including:
- Completing a feasibility study and mapping your service area
- Prioritizing project opportunities
- Calculating implementation costs
- Evaluating a public-private partnership (PPP) to support costs and operations
With this preparation in hand, your fiber board can start the work of applying for broadband funding opportunities.
Find Broadband-Specific Funding Opportunities
As our elected leaders become more aware of the potential offered by broadband, grants to help implement it are increasing in size and availability. SOAR maintains an up-to-date listing of funding opportunities specifically dedicated to broadband implementation in Kentucky.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The American Rescue Plan Act
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) comes with a budget of $350 billion. There are many potential uses for these funds — one of them is providing high-speed broadband to unserved or underserved households and businesses.
Cities in Kentucky are eligible for a combined $931 million from ARPA. To receive their funds, cities must file a project and expenses report with the US Department of the Treasury by April 30. The Kentucky League of Cities is working to provide more information on preparing and applying for these funds.
Counties can also receive a combined $867.8 million from the ARPA. The Kentucky Association of Counties provides resources to help member counties navigate the process.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The Better Kentucky Plan
The Commonwealth of Kentucky will enhance the impact of ARPA funding through the Better Kentucky Plan. Officials earmarked $300 million in Commonwealth funds to match federal grants. Part of what they’ll be funding is broadband connectivity.
Application materials are forthcoming in 2022.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act will do its part to help close the digital divide in places like Eastern Kentucky. More than $100 million in funds will be available for Kentucky communities that qualify.
An additional $2.75 million has also been reserved under a Capacity Grant Program. This will ensure once broadband is available, communities are trained with technological knowledge to use it to its full potential.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: Quality Private Activity Bonds
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act now enables counties and municipalities to issue bonds to fundraise for broadband projects. Qualified projects will need to bring connectivity to eligible areas and meet a speed threshold.
Learn more about Qualified Private Activity Bonds here.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
The Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will deliver high-speed broadband to nearly 31,700 Kentucky homes and small businesses.
They’ve allocated $158 million towards the 10-year project, with more money potentially on the way. In December 2021, $1.04 billion more RDOF money was released to go towards laying broadband infrastructure in 32 states.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The ARC POWER Grant
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) provides grants to coal-impacted communities through its POWER Grants.
This is an important funder for our region. ARC has invested $294.7 million across 369 projects in the last six years. The 2022 application process will open in late January with a virtual kickoff event.
We’ve created a dedicated blog post to help you apply for the ARC POWER Grant. Check it out here.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The Capital Projects Fund
The Capital Projects Fund (CPF) invests in infrastructure that directly supports work, education, and health needs. Broadband projects that enable remote work opportunities should be eligible.
The applications for these funds are on the state level. That means you should expect to hear more from Commonwealth officials in 2022 regarding the availability and requirements to apply for CPF funds.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky: The USDA ReConnect Loan & Grant Program
The USDA ReConnect Loan & Grant Program funds broadband project costs in eligible rural areas. It provides loans, grants, and combination funding to help with construction, improvements, and acquisitions related to expanding broadband service in rural areas.
The application window is currently open. Check out the program FAQs and evaluation criteria to create a competitive application for your county.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky Residents: The Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers
The Lifeline Program expanded in 2016 to include subsidized broadband service in addition to phone service for low-income residents. Residents can check the Lifeline Program website to determine eligibility, meet participating providers, and apply.
Broadband Funding for Kentucky Residents: The Affordable Connectivity Program
The Affordable Connectivity Program helps eligible households pay for broadband with service discounts and device grants. Help your residents enroll by providing them with the instructions to apply. Here’s the link to the online application portal. They can also apply by mail.
Applying for broadband project funding is a highly competitive process. While you need to spend the time to create a quality application, you should also plan to send out as many as possible. Striking the right balance should help increase your chance of winning funds.
We’ve highlighted some of our top funding opportunities in this post. But there are still several more grants and loans that you should check out for your county.
Review this online library of federal broadband funding opportunities. You can filter the list by broadband projects. Don’t hesitate to contact your SOAR representative to get the inside scoop about how these additional funders operate.
Create the Strongest Funding Applications Possible
You’ll need to submit the best applications you can possibly create. Part of that effort comes down to logistics. It’ll be critical to get your timing right.
If there’s a chance you’ll apply for broadband funding in 2022, first check to see if you have a D&B number. You can do this by visiting the Dun and Bradstreet website or calling 1-866-705-5711.
Next, to account for processing times, you need to set up your accounts on Grants.gov and SAM.gov right away. If you don’t, you might miss your application windows later in the year.
Once you’re registered, be sure to take advantage of applicant resources available on Grants.gov and SAM.gov. These two portals will be absolutely essential to your application development process.
Finally, follow these steps to prepare the strongest funding applications possible.
As we mentioned earlier, these efforts start and end with a highly-engaged fiber board. Your members need to come to the table with the passion, connections, and skills that will get the work done for your county.
Check out these resources to help you succeed in your broadband program from start to finish.
- Last Mile Guide: Reference this playbook to learn how to prepare for, fund, and implement last-mile broadband.
- Broadband Resource Hub: Check out this comprehensive website to explore helpful tips, including how to form PPPs and more on broadband funders.
- Local Success Stories: Learn from fiber boards and counties in our region who have been through this before.
- Local Partners: Get to know the partners who can support you along the way.
Contact the SOAR team once you’ve completed your steps to prepare to apply for broadband funding.
We can double-check your work to make sure you’re positioned to submit a competitive application. This includes providing actionable feedback to increase your chances of succeeding.