$120 Million Allotted for Last-Mile Connectivity Application Portal Open April 3-May 5
In early March, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar posted a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) signifying his agency’s intent to solicit an initial round of grant applications totaling $120 million for broadband infrastructure projects as part of the Bringing Online Opportunities to Texas (BOOT) program.
“Interested applicants will be able to submit applications electronically using the grant portal starting on April 3,” shared Kevin Lyons, agency spokesperson for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA). The BOOT program is the state’s first competitive broadband grant program focused on last-mile connectivity: connecting end users to high-speed internet. The grant money will support broadband infrastructure projects in eligible areas that bring reliable, affordable internet service to communities in need.
The minimum grant amount per applicant is $200,000, and the maximum is $4,999,999, according to the NOFA. There is no match requirement; however, “preferential consideration will be given to applications based on contributions from other sources of funding, including in-kind contributions, as a percent of the total project costs.”
“I would encourage the political subdivisions that meet the requirements to apply for the funds,” said Floyd County Judge Marty Lucke, chair of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council. Created by the 86th Legislature, the council works to study and identify ways to provide internet access to underserved areas of Texas.
“However, remember the emphasis is to provide last-mile broadband with this grant,” Lucke emphasized. “I do believe there will be more grant opportunities to improve/upgrade current broadband systems at a later date.”
Hegar described this grant opportunity as “an important step that my agency is taking to fulfill our legislative directive to connect every Texan to broadband service.”
Nearly 7 million Texans don’t have access to broadband services, Hegar observed.
“That’s 7 million Texans who can’t access job postings, telemedicine appointments, and work or educational opportunities from home,” he continued. “This process is a big start in bridging that digital divide.”
The NOFA and grant application are available on the TXSmartBuy website: https://www.txsmartbuy.com/esbddetails/view/BDO-NOFA-001. Applicants had until March 17 to submit questions on the NOFA and allow for any necessary corrections to the solicitation through the addendum process.
Applicants may also visit the Comptroller’s Broadband Development Office (BDO) website for more information about the application process and guidance materials and to sign up for updates about future broadband initiatives; scan here: https://comptroller.texas.gov/programs/broadband/
To be eligible for a BOOT grant, infrastructure projects must be designed to deliver, upon completion, broadband service that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), according to the CPA. Awarded applicants must also provide a universally available low-cost option for locations being served by the project and participate in a federal broadband subsidy program.
“If you haven’t already, check with your regional council or COG to engage in any broadband efforts and discussions happening regionally,” suggested Ginny Lewis Ford, executive director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils. “Partnerships between and with political subdivisions and local entities is an important scoring criteria under the BOOT program for any applicant. Be sure you have a seat at the table as local elected leaders.” (See Ford’s Quick Tips Below.)
Broadband Development Office
The BDO was established by the Texas Legislature in 2021 and housed within the CPA to help close the digital divide in Texas.
Through the BDO, the State of Texas has been allocated $363.8 million through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund (CPF). This program is administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The funds allocated to Texas will be distributed by the BDO through a multi-round competitive grant process, with this $120 million representing the first round.
In January, the BDO published the Texas Broadband Development Map to identify eligible areas of the state for funding projects. Applications must only include unserved and underserved broadband serviceable locations in these eligible areas.
BOOT Program Quick Tips
Ginny Lewis Ford, executive director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils, offered the following checklist to those interested in applying for a BOOT grant:
- Familiarize yourself with Government Code 409I and the newly adopted Comptroller rules at 34 TAC § 16.30.
- Be sure your area/county is eligible as unserved or underserved on the state’s broadband maps.
- If partnering with a provider, be sure they provided their mapping data to the Broadband Development Office.
- See scoring criteria in NOFA.
- Remember, the application submission deadline is May 5, 2023.
On March 6, State Rep. Trent Ashby filed House Bill 9 which offered the following caption: “Relating to the development and funding of broadband and telecommunications services; making an appropriation.”