On November 10, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially opened the application window for the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program with the release of the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). 

Since the Emergency Broadband Benefit program (EBB) (ACP’s predecessor) launched in 2021, NDIA and our affiliates have advocated for outreach and enrollment support for trusted community organizations. 

While over 14 million people have enrolled in the ACP program, the missing component has been funding for locally driven outreach and enrollment activities. In August, the FCC took the first step in establishing the program in the ACP Outreach Grant Program Report and Order. Now, the ACP Outreach Grant Program has an open application. 

The ACP Outreach Grant Program’s goal is to increase awareness and participation in the ACP among eligible households, with three objectives:

  1. Expanding and supporting diverse and impactful outreach efforts nationwide
  2. Strengthening outreach partners nationwide by empowering them to mobilize people and organizations to help raise awareness about ACP to eligible households
  3. Increasing ACP enrollment as a result of ACP Outreach Grant Program funded activities

The NOFO includes information on eligibility, funding allocation, funding prioritization factors, and guidance on how to prepare for receiving grant funds. This grant program is an incredible opportunity to support your effort in getting the word out about ACP and helping people enroll in the program. 

We highly recommend you read the NOFO in full if you plan on applying (or even think you might apply) as it is chock full of information all applicants need to know. We’ve also broken down the topline information you need to know.

About the ACP Outreach Grant Program

First and foremost, applications are due January 9, 2023, at 11:59 PM EST. If you’re interested in applying for a grant, we encourage you to start the process as soon as possible, as there are several steps you will need to take.

Wait, how is the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program different from the pilot programs?

Many of you have heard of ACP outreach grants and the pilot programs designed to promote ACP outreach and enrollment. So what exactly is the ACP outreach grant program? The ACP Outreach Grant Program is comprised of four complementary programs, all of which can be supported with ACP outreach grants:

  • National Competitive Outreach Program (NCOP) 
  • Tribal Competitive Outreach Program (TCOP) 
  • Your Home, Your Internet (YHYI) Pilot Program
  • Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Navigator Pilot Program (NPP) 

The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) issued on November 10 (the one we  summarize) explains the National Competitive Outreach Grant Program (NCOP) and the Tribal Competitive Outreach Grant Program (TCOP). The FCC will publish a separate NOFO with more information on the pilots (Your Home, Your Internet and the Navigator Pilot Program) on November 21, 2022. The pilot programs are much more limited in scope and will not directly impact many NDIA affiliates, but we’ll also update you when the NOFO for the pilot programs is released. 

Eligibility 

For the FY2023 application cycle, applications are open to government and non-government entities, including:

  • Nonprofit organizations (501(c)(3) status is not required)
  • Community-based organizations (including faith-based organizations and social service organizations)
  • Community anchor institutions (e.g. healthcare providers, healthcare organizations, libraries, and library consortia)
  • Public service organizations
  • Public housing authorities
  • Tribal designated housing entities
  • Tribal governments and subdivisions, as well as Tribal organizations
  • State governments and subdivisions (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico)
  • US territory governments and subdivisions (US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands)
  • Local governments and subdivisions (including county, borough, municipality, city, town, township, parish, local public authority, special district, intrastate district, council of governments, and agencies or instrumentalities of multi-regional or intra-state or local government)
  • Social service providers (e.g. food banks, community transportation, and childcare organizations)
  • Education organizations, such as schools and other institutions of higher education
  • Workforce development training organizations 
  • Consortia of the entities listed above

Any organization listed above may apply for Tribal Competitive Outreach Funds if the funds are only used for ACP outreach and/or ACP application assistance activities for people who live on qualifying Tribal lands.

Broadband providers and their subsidiaries, affiliates, representatives, contractors, and agents are not eligible to participate in the ACP Outreach Grant Program or receive grant awards, either as grantees, pass-through entities, or subrecipients.

Funding

A total of $70 million is available for grant funds in the National Competitive Outreach Grant Program and the Tribal Competitive Outreach Grant Program. Here’s the breakdown:

  • $60 million for the National Competitive Outreach Grant Program
    • $27 million is reserved so that the total amount awarded in each state (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) will be a minimum allocation of $500,000, and each US territory will receive a target minimum allocation of $250,000. This does not mean that these funds are reserved for state government entities–this “target minimum” amount is the minimum amount the FCC will award, in total, to all of the entities applying for grant funding within each state or territory. This amount is the floor, not the ceiling—the total amount dispersed among the states may be more (or less if the total amount requested is below the minimum). 
  • $10 million is available for the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program

The FCC expects to issue 200-400 awards in amounts between $50,000 and $1 million.

Although there is no cost-sharing requirement (you won’t have to fund a portion of the project) or cost matching agreement requirement (you won’t have to match the funds they provide with your own funds), applicants that propose matching or cost sharing may receive priority consideration if there is a tie. The cost share can be cash or in-kind (non-monetary things like staff time, etc.). 

In-kind contributions are not permitted from internet service providers, or a specific group of providers (including broadband industry groups, such as trade associations) for the purpose of grant-funded activities.

What can you use the grants for?

The following activities are eligible for funding support:

  • ACP Application Assistance
  • Digital Campaigns
  • Outreach Materials
  • Direct Mail
  • ACP Service Provider Locator 
  • Personnel
  • Fringe Benefits
  • Planning 
  • Travel
  • Supplies 
  • Project Management (Management & Administrative)
  • Facilities
  • Indirect Costs
  • Paid Media Campaigns
  • Consumer Research/Focus Groups
  • Evaluation Process

See pages 20-23 of the NOFO for more detailed descriptions of these funding categories.

For this application cycle, the FCC has developed a list of evaluation factors–aka metrics for how they will score your application–to prioritize applications. For the full list of evaluation factors, see pages 6-7 of the NOFO. 

  • If the applicant intends to target unserved low-income households or individuals that are not currently on a low-income broadband plan or that do not have broadband service
  • If the applicant intends to target communities that have low ACP participation rate
  • Whether state or territory (including DC) has entered into or demonstrated commitment to enter into a Computer Matching Agreement with USAC for the purposes of verifying ACP eligibility of low-income consumers for ACP (*this only applies to state government entities applying for grant funding) 
  • Experience with and success in conducting outreach regarding government programs and resources, particularly providing resources and directing services and education to people of color, persons with disabilities, persons who live in rural or Tribal areas, and others who are or have been historically underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality
  • Familiarity with the ACP and experience with or knowledge of bridging digital disparities and connectivity issues
  • Existing relationship with target communities or has a thorough plan to readily develop those relationships
  • Experience or capability conducting multilingual outreach, to include American Sign Language

Important Note of Remaining Neutral While Conducting Grant-Funded Activities

The FCC emphasizes that the grant funds are not intended to increase enrollment with a particular service provider and that consumers must have a right to choose their ACP provider and a plan that meets their needs. To maintain neutrality, it’s against the rules of the program to encourage or incentivize people to enroll with a particular service provider while conducting grant-funded activities. See page 18-19 of the NOFO for more information. 

Preparing the Application

Grant writing professionals can help your organization develop your project proposal, and this might be especially helpful for organizations that are brand new to applying for grants but have great, innovative ideas for a project. As a starting point, check out the organizations below:

  • Just Transition Fund provides grant writing support, technical assistance, and peer-to-peer support to help coal-impacted communities access federal funding for broadband projects that meet local needs. 
  • Regional planning organizations, such as regional councils of governments or planning commissions, often provide grant writing support or expertise.

 

Submitting the Application

The FCC will not accept applications submitted past 11:59 p.m. EST on January 9, 2023.

In addition to preparing the content of your application, it’s important to begin taking steps now to ensure that your organization is appropriately registered in the grant management and application systems. We recommend that you begin the registration process now if you think you might apply to give your organization plenty of time to resolve any registration issues. 

Start the following at least four weeks before January 9 (by December 12): 

At least two weeks before January 9 (by December 26): 

  • Start entering your information in the application in the Grants.gov Workspace 

By January 9:

  • Submit your application.

Heads up about SAM Registration

The SAM registration process can take two weeks or possibly longer–don’t wait until the last minute to begin. Make sure that a current employee within your organization has credentials to use the system on behalf of your organization. Watch out for spam relating to SAM registration from third parties–we recommend only interfacing with .gov official government websites regarding your registration. 

Timeline

The FCC expects to process awards by March 10, 2023 and issue those awards on or before March 31, 2023. The expected time period for awardees to use funding for their projects (or “performance period”) is 24 months: March 2023-March 2025. 

To learn more about the ACP Outreach Grant Program–contact information, webinars, future opportunities for office hours, fact sheet, and FAQs–visit the FCC’s ACP Outreach Grant Program webpage. We also encourage you to view the first of a series of webinars that the FCC will host, the ACP Outreach Grant Program Informational Webinar