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Notice

Announcement of Grant Application Deadlines and Funding Levels

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Rural Utilities Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Notice of solicitation of applications.

SUMMARY:

USDA Rural Development administers rural utilities programs through the Rural Utilities Service. USDA Rural Development announces its Community Connect Grant Program application window for funding during fiscal year (FY) 2006. In addition, USDA Rural Development announces the minimum and maximum amounts for Community Connect grants applicable for the fiscal year. The Community Connect Grant Program regulations can be found at 7 CFR part 1739, subpart A.

DATES:

You may submit completed applications for grants on paper or electronically according to the following deadlines:

  • Paper copies must carry proof of shipping no later than May 15, 2006 to be eligible for FY 2006 grant funding. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2006 grant funding.
  • Electronic copies must be received by May 15, 2006 to be eligible for FY 2006 grant funding. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2006 grant funding.

ADDRESSES:

You may obtain application guides and materials for the Community Connect Grant Program via the Internet at the following Web site: http://www.usda.gov/​rus/​telecom/​commconnect.htm. You may also request application guides and materials from USDA Rural Development by contacting the appropriate individual listed in section VII of the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this notice. Start Printed Page 13074

Submit completed paper applications for grants to the USDA Rural Development, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Room 2844, STOP 1599, Washington, DC 20250-1599. Applications should be marked “Attention: Director, Broadband Division, Telecommunications Program.”

Submit electronic grant applications at http://www.grants.gov (Grants.gov), following the instructions you find on that Web site.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Kenneth Kuchno, Director, Broadband Division, Telecommunications, USDA Rural Development, telephone: (202) 690-4673, fax: (202) 690-4389.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Overview

Federal Agency: Rural Utilities Service.

Funding Opportunity Title: Community Connect Grant Program.

Announcement Type: Initial announcement.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number: 10.863.

Dates: You may submit completed applications for grants on paper or electronically according to the following deadlines:

  • Paper copies must carry proof of shipping no later than May 15, 2006, to be eligible for FY 2006 grant funding. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2006 grant funding.
  • Electronic copies must be received by May 15, 2006, to be eligible for FY 2006 grant funding. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2006 grant funding.

Items in Supplementary Information

I. Funding Opportunity: Brief introduction to the Community Connect Grant Program.

II. Award Information: Available funds and minimum and maximum amounts.

III. Eligibility Information: Who is eligible, what kinds of projects are eligible, what criteria determine basic eligibility.

IV. Application and Submission Information: Where to get application materials, what constitutes a completed application, how and where to submit applications, deadlines, items that are eligible.

V. Application Review Information: Considerations and preferences, scoring criteria, review standards, selection information.

VI. Award Administration Information: Award notice information, award recipient reporting requirements.

VII. Agency Contacts: Web, phone, fax, email, contact name.

I. Funding Opportunity

The provision of broadband transmission service is vital to the economic development, education, health, and safety of rural Americans. The purpose of the Community Connect Grant Program is to provide financial assistance in the form of grants to eligible applicants that will provide currently unserved areas, on a “community-oriented connectivity” basis, with broadband transmission service that fosters economic growth and delivers enhanced educational, health care, and public safety services. USDA Rural Development will give priority to rural areas that it believes have the greatest need for broadband transmission services, based on the criteria contained herein.

Grant authority will be used for the deployment of broadband transmission service to extremely rural, lower-income communities on a “community-oriented connectivity” basis. The “community-oriented connectivity” concept will stimulate practical, everyday uses and applications of broadband facilities by cultivating the deployment of new broadband transmission services that improve economic development and provide enhanced educational and health care opportunities in rural areas. Such an approach will also give rural communities the opportunity to benefit from the advanced technologies that are necessary to achieve these goals. Please see 7 CFR 1739, subpart A for specifics.

This notice has been formatted to conform to a policy directive issued by the Office of Federal Financial Management (OFFM) of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), published in the Federal Register on June 23, 2003. This Notice does not change the Community Connect Grant Program regulation (7 CFR 1739, subpart A).

II. Award Information

A. Available Funds. 1. General. The Administrator has determined that the following amounts are available for grants in FY 2006 under 7 CFR 1739.2(a).

2. Grants. a. $8.9 million is available for grants. Under 7 CFR 1739.2, the Administrator has established a minimum grant amount of $50,000. There is no maximum grant amount for FY 2006.

b. Assistance instrument: USDA Rural Development will execute grant documents appropriate to the project prior to any advance of funds with successful applicants.

B. Community Connect grants cannot be renewed.

Award documents specify the term of each award. Applications to extend existing projects are welcomed (grant applications must be submitted during the application window) and will be evaluated as new applications.

III. Eligibility Information

A. Who Is Eligible for Grants? (See 7 CFR 1739.10.)

1. Only entities legally organized as one of the following are eligible for Community Connect Grant Program financial assistance:

a. An incorporated organization,

b. An Indian tribe or tribal organization, as defined in 25 U.S.C. 450b(b) and (c),

c. A state or local unit of government,

d. A cooperative, private corporation or limited liability company organized on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis.

2. Individuals are not eligible for Community Connect Grant Program financial assistance directly.

3. Applicants must have the legal capacity and authority to own and operate the broadband facilities as proposed in its application, to enter into contracts and to otherwise comply with applicable federal statutes and regulations.

B. What Are the Basic Eligibility Requirements for a Project?

1. Required matching contributions. Please see 7 CFR 1739.14 for the requirement. Grant applicants must demonstrate a matching contribution, in cash or in kind (new, non-depreciated items), of at least fifteen (15) percent of the total amount of USDA Rural Development financial assistance requested. Matching contributions must be used for eligible purposes of Community Connect grant assistance (see 7 CFR 1739.12).

2. To be eligible for a grant, the Project must (see 7 CFR 1739.11):

a. Serve a Rural Area where Broadband Transmission Service does not currently exist, to be verified by USDA Rural Development prior to the award of the grant;

b. Serve one and only one Community recognized in the latest U.S. Census, which shall encompass any community added through the Count Question Resolution Process, as well as any Census Designated Place. A Community made eligible through the Count Question Resolution Process which lacks Corresponding Per Capita Income (PCI) data must propose, subject to USDA Rural Development acceptance, available substitute PCI data for a geographic area that includes and most replicates the Applicant's proposed Service Area;

Additional communities located in the contiguous areas outside the Community's boundaries that are not Start Printed Page 13075recognized (due to size) in the U.S. Census, can be included in the applicant's proposed Service Area, but must be supported by documentation, acceptable to USDA Rural Development, as to their existence.

c. Deploy Basic Broadband Transmission Service, free of all charges for at least 2 years, to all Critical Community Facilities located within the proposed Service Area;

d. Offer Basic Broadband Transmission Service to residential and business customers within the proposed Service Area; and

e. Provide a Community Center with at least ten (10) Computer Access Points within the proposed Service Area, and make Broadband Transmission Service available therein, free of all charges to users for at least 2 years.

C. See paragraph IV.B of this notice for a discussion of the items that make up a completed application. You may also refer to 7 CFR 1739.15 for completed grant application items.

IV. Application and Submission Information

A. Where To Get Application Information

The application guide, copies of necessary forms and samples, and the Community Connect Grant Program regulation are available from these sources:

1. The Internet: http://www.usda.gov/​rus/​telecom/​commconnect.htm, or http://www.grants.gov.

2. The USDA Rural Development, Broadband Division, for paper copies of these materials: (202) 690-4673.

B. What Constitutes a Completed Application?

1. Detailed information on each item required can be found in the Community Connect Grant Program regulation and the Community Connect Grant Program application guide. Applicants are strongly encouraged to read and apply both the regulation and the application guide. This Notice does not change the requirements for a completed application for any form of Community Connect Grant Program financial assistance specified in the Community Connect Grant Program regulation. The Community Connect Grant Program regulation and the application guide provide specific guidance on each of the items listed and the Community Connect Grant Program application guide provides all necessary forms and sample worksheets.

2. A completed application must include the following documentation, studies, reports and information in form satisfactory to USDA Rural Development. Applications should be prepared in conformance with the provisions in 7 CFR 1739, subpart A, and applicable USDA regulations including 7 CFR parts 3015, 3016, and 3019. Applicants must use the USDA Rural Development Application Guide for this program containing instructions and all necessary forms, as well as other important information, in preparing their application. Completed applications must include the following:

a. An Application for Federal Assistance. A completed Standard Form (SF) 424.

b. An executive summary of the Project. The applicant must provide USDA Rural Development with a general project overview.

c. Scoring criteria documentation. Each grant applicant must address and provide documentation on how it meets each of the scoring criteria detailed 7 CFR 1739.17.

d. System design. The applicant must submit a system design, including, narrative specifics of the proposal, associated costs, maps, engineering design studies, technical specifications and system capabilities, etc.

e. Scope of work. The scope of work must include specific activities and services to be performed under the proposal, who will carry out the activities and services, specific time-frames for completion, and a budget for all capital and administrative expenditures reflecting the line item costs for all grant purposes, the matching contribution, and other sources of funds necessary to complete the project.

f. Community-Oriented Connectivity Plan. The applicant must provide a detailed Community-Oriented Connectivity Plan.

g. Financial information and sustainability. The applicant must provide financial statements and information and a narrative description demonstrating the sustainability of the Project.

h. A statement of experience. The applicant must provide a written narrative describing its demonstrated capability and experience, if any, in operating a broadband telecommunications system.

i. Evidence of legal authority and existence. The applicant must provide evidence of its legal existence and authority to enter into a grant agreement with the Rural Utilities Service and to perform the activities proposed under the grant application.

j. Funding commitment from other sources. If the Project requires additional funding from other sources in addition to the USDA Rural Development grant, the applicant must provide evidence that funding agreements have been obtained to ensure completion of the Project.

k. Compliance with other federal statutes. The applicant must provide evidence of compliance with other federal statutes and regulations, including, but not limited to the following:

(i) 7 CFR part 15, subpart A—Nondiscrimination in Federally Assisted Programs of the Department of Agriculture—Effectuation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

(ii) 7 CFR part 3015—Uniform Federal Assistance Regulations.

(iii) 7 CFR part 3017—Governmentwide Debarment and Suspension (Non-procurement).

(iv) 7 CFR part 3018—New Restrictions on Lobbying.

(v) 7 CFR part 3021—Governmentwide Requirements for Drug-Free Workplace (Financial Assistance).

(vi) Certification regarding Architectural Barriers.

(vii) Certification regarding Flood Hazard Precautions.

(viii) An environmental report, in accordance with 7 CFR 1794.

(ix) Certification that grant funds will not be used to duplicate lines, facilities, or systems providing Broadband Transmission Service.

(x) Federal Obligation Certification on Delinquent Debt.

5. DUNS Number. As required by the OMB, all applicants for grants must now supply a Dun and Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number when applying. The SF-424 contains a field for you to use when supplying your DUNS number. Obtaining a DUNS number costs nothing and requires a short telephone call to Dun and Bradstreet. Please see the Community Connect Web site or Grants.gov for more information on how to obtain a DUNS number or how to verify your organization's number.

C. How Many Copies of an Application Are Required?

1. Applications submitted on paper: Submit the original application and two (2) copies to USDA Rural Development.

2. Electronically submitted applications: The additional paper copies for USDA Rural Development are not necessary if you submit the application electronically through Grants.gov.

D. How and Where To Submit an Application

Grant applications may be submitted on paper or electronically. Start Printed Page 13076

1. Submitting applications on paper.

a. Address paper applications for grants to the USDA Rural Development, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Room 2844, STOP 1599, Washington, DC 20250-1599. Applications should be marked “Attention: Director, Broadband Division, Telecommunications Program.”

b. Paper applications must show proof of mailing or shipping consisting of one of the following:

(i) A legibly dated U.S. Postal Service (USPS) postmark;

(ii) A legible mail receipt with the date of mailing stamped by the USPS; or

(iii) A dated shipping label, invoice, or receipt from a commercial carrier.

c. Due to screening procedures at the Department of Agriculture, packages arriving via the USPS are irradiated, which can damage the contents. USDA Rural Development encourages applicants to consider the impact of this procedure in selecting their application delivery method.

2. Electronically submitted applications.

a. Applications will not be accepted via facsimile machine transmission or electronic mail.

b. Electronic applications for grants will be accepted if submitted through the Federal government's Grants.gov initiative at http://www.grants.gov.

c. How to use Grants.gov:

(i) Navigate your Web browser to http://www.grants.gov.

(ii) Follow the instructions on that Web site to find grant information.

(iii) Download a copy of the application package.

(iv) Complete the package off-line.

(v) Upload and submit the application via the Grants.gov Web site.

d. Grants.gov contains full instructions on all required passwords, credentialing and software.

e. USDA Rural Development encourages applicants who wish to apply through Grants.gov to submit their applications in advance of the deadline.

f. If a system problem occurs or you have technical difficulties with an electronic application, please use the customer support resources available at the Grants.gov Web site.

g. Clarification for FY 2006: USDA Rural Development clarifies that the definition of “Critical Community Facilities” includes the mandatory Community Center, and that operating expenses associated with the Community Center for the first two years of operations are eligible for financial assistance. Moreover, USDA Rural Development clarifies its interpretation of the amount of operating expenses for Critical Community Facilities that are eligible for financial assistance by stating that “reasonable operating expenses” shall not exceed $200,000 over two years.

E. Deadlines

1. Paper applications must be postmarked and mailed, shipped, or sent overnight no later than May 15, 2006 to be eligible for FY 2006 grant funding. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2006 grant funding.

2. Electronic grant applications must be received by May 15, 2006 to be eligible for FY 2006 funding. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2006 grant funding.

F. Funding Restrictions

1. Eligible grant purposes. Grant funds may be used to finance:

a. The construction, acquisition, or leasing of facilities, including spectrum, to deploy Broadband Transmission Service to all participating Critical Community Facilities and all required facilities needed to offer such service to residential and business customers located within the proposed Service Area;

b. The improvement, expansion, construction, or acquisition of a Community Center that furnishes free access to broadband Internet service, provided that the Community Center is open and accessible to area residents before, during, and after normal working hours and on Saturday or Sunday. Grant funds provided for such costs shall not exceed the greater of five percent (5%) of the grant amount requested or $100,000;

c. End-User Equipment needed to carry out the Project;

d. Operating expenses incurred in providing Broadband Transmission Service to Critical Community Facilities for the first 2 years of operation and in providing training and instruction. Salary and administrative expenses will be subject to review, and may be limited by USDA Rural Development for reasonableness in relation to the scope of the Project; and

e. The purchase of land, buildings, or building construction needed to carry out the Project.

2. Ineligible grant purposes.

a. Grant funds may not be used to finance the duplication of any existing Broadband Transmission Service provided by another entity.

b. Facilities financed with grant funds cannot be utilized, in any way, to provide local exchange telecommunications service to any person or entity already receiving such service.

3. Please see 7 CFR 1739.3 for definitions, 7 CFR 1739.12 for eligible grant purposes, and 7 CFR 1739.13 for ineligible grant purposes

V. Application Review Information

A. Criteria

1. Grant applications are scored competitively and subject to the criteria listed below.

2. Grant application scoring criteria (total possible points: 100). See 7 CFR 1739.17 for the items that will be reviewed during scoring and for scoring criteria.

a. The rurality of the Project (up to 40 points);

b. The economic need of the Project's Service Area (up to 30 points); and

c. The “community-oriented connectivity” benefits derived from the proposed service (up to 30 points).

B. Review Standards

1. All applications for grants must be delivered to USDA Rural Development at the address and by the date specified in this notice (see also 7 CFR 1739.2) to be eligible for funding. Each application will be reviewed for conformance with the provisions of this part. Applicant may be contacted for additional information or clarification.

2. Incomplete applications as of the deadline for submission will not be considered. If an application is determined to be incomplete, the applicant will be notified in writing and the application will be returned with no further action.

3. Applications conforming with this part will then be evaluated competitively by a panel of USDA Rural Development employees selected by the Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, and will be awarded points as described in the scoring criteria in 7 CFR 1739.17. Applications will be ranked and grants awarded in rank order until all grant funds are expended.

4. Regardless of the score an application receives, if USDA Rural Development determines that the Project is technically or financially infeasible, USDA Rural Development will notify the applicant, in writing, and the application will be returned with no further action.

C. Selection Process

Grant applications are ranked by final score. USDA Rural Development selects applications based on those rankings, subject to the availability of funds.

VI. Award Administration Information

A. Award Notices

USDA Rural Development recognizes that each funded project is unique, and Start Printed Page 13077therefore may attach conditions to different projects' award documents. USDA Rural Development generally notifies applicants whose projects are selected for awards by faxing an award letter. USDA Rural Development follows the award letter with a grant agreement that contains all the terms and conditions for the grant. An applicant must execute and return the grant agreement, accompanied by any additional items required by the grant agreement.

B. Administrative and National Policy Requirements

The items listed in paragraph IV.B.2.k of this notice, and the Community Connect Grant Program regulation, application guide and accompanying materials implement the appropriate administrative and national policy requirements.

C. Reporting

1. Performance reporting. All recipients of Community Connect Grant Program financial assistance must provide annual performance activity reports to USDA Rural Development until the project is complete and the funds are expended. A final performance report is also required; the final report may serve as the last annual report. The final report must include an evaluation of the success of the project. See 7 CFR 1739.19.

2. Financial reporting. All recipients of Community Connect Grant Program financial assistance must provide an annual audit, beginning with the first year a portion of the financial assistance is expended. Audits are governed by United States Department of Agriculture audit regulations. Please see 7 CFR 1739.20.

VII. Agency Contacts

A. Web site: http://www.usda.gov/​rus/​commconnect.htm.

The USDA Rural Development's Web site maintains up-to-date resources and contact information for the Community Connect Grant Program.

B. Phone: 202-690-4673

C. Fax: 202-690-4673

D. Main point of contact: Kenneth Kuchno, Director, Broadband Division, Telecommunications Program, USDA Rural Development.

Start Signature

Dated: March 2, 2006.

James M. Andrew,

Administrator, Rural Utilities Service.

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[FR Doc. E6-3575 Filed 3-13-06; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-15-P