- Until July 7, 2016, schools in rural areas have the option of applying for funding from the Farm Bill Broadband Loans and Loan Guarantees program, an initiative launched in 2015 to provide funding for the construction, improvement or acquisition of broadband equipment.
- The program isn't meant specifically for schools, but those in rural areas located within a certain service area — which can be checked using the USDA's online Telecommunications Program Mapping Tool homepage — may be eligible.
- The grants can support various applicants including non-profits, for-profits and LLCs, meaning for-profit charters and tribal schools can also potentially receive funding — but at least 15% of households in the proposed service area have to lack broadband connections.
Meant for remote areas largely without competing telecommunications providers or existing networks, the Farm Bill Broadband Loans and Loan Guarantees program can be a good way for schools to acquire web connections. But since they're loans, they come with the expected financing strings, and the program defines the loan's general terms as being "limited to the expected composite economic life of the assets to be financed plus 3 years." Explicit details regarding financing are online at the Code of Federal Regulations website.
A recent infographic created by the group Funds for Learning highlighted the most pressing school needs related to internet connectivity, including pricing estimates, upcoming hardware replacements, and cost per student for a new deployment of WiFi. According to the group, 65% of responding schools called connectivity "an absolute requirement" while noting that per-student spending on telecommunications had doubled over the last 15 years.
Although rural districts can also turn to the E-Rate program for federal support in defraying connectivity costs, the application window closed April 30. The application window for libraries and consortia is open until July 21.