FCC Encourages 'Innovative' Strategies in ACP Outreach Grant Applications
The FCC encouraged entities interested in applying for the affordable connectivity program's outreach grants to present "innovative outreach strategies" that can be implemented at the multistate or national level, due to the limited funding available, said Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau staff during a webinar Tuesday. Attendees sought guidance on how to navigate the application process and how the bureau will base its funding decisions.
The bureau, which was tasked with developing and administering the grants, opened its application portal last week for up to $60 million in national outreach grants and $10 million for tribal outreach grants (see 2211100044). It's “a lot of money,” said ACP Grant Manager Policy Adviser Miriam Montgomery, "but when you think about the types of entities that are eligible for this grant program, we can easily exhaust that $70 million.”
Affordability is "the No. 1 cited barrier to broadband adoption," said Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief Alejandro Roark. The new funding will "empower trusted messengers to develop and implement innovative outreach strategies to expand the circle of digital opportunity," Roark said.
Attendees sought guidance on how many awards the bureau plans to award at the maximum grant amount of $1 million. Montgomery said it's unclear because there's "no baseline data" to anticipate the number of such awards. If applicants are considering seeking the maximum award amount, "we really want to see an innovative outreach and ACP application assistance strategy," she said. One attendee asked whether an applicant may receive less funding than sought. Montgomery said it could happen, but commission staff will consider funding requests based on the merit of a proposal.
Applications will undergo a three-phase review, Montgomery said. After an eligibility compliance review, applications will undergo a merit review to determine the quality of proposed projects and risk review to determine an applicant's fiscal stability. The bureau will measure the grant program based on awareness and enrollment, Montgomery said: "As the first ever grant program that the commission is administering, it's really important for us to understand how effective this grant program is."
Applicants' project abstracts will be made available to the public if awarded funding, said Grants Management Policy Adviser Joy Sears. Grant recipients will be required to provide data on these measures on a quarterly basis, as well as the number and type of outreach activities and events conducted, she said. Recipients will also be required to submit data on the number of people who participated in the in-person events, households enrolled and number of those households that previously lacked internet access.
The bureau declined to limit eligibility to only nonprofit organizations with a 501(c)(3) status, as sought by some consumer advocacy groups (see 2203170048). Other organizations that don't have the 501(c)(3) status also “have existing trusted relationships at the community level already and we’re just trying to emphasize that,” Montgomery said.
Some attendees sought guidance on training opportunities for grant recipients that plan to assist individuals in the application process. Montgomery said entities can seek training and guest speakers by contacting the FCC. One attendee asked whether community-based organizations should partner with others on an application. Collaboration "is always good, but it's not a requirement," Montgomery said.
“These funds are available to anyone within the state” and the review process is “really based on merit and your ability to reach eligible households with a focus on historically unserved and underserved populations and communities,” Roark said: "We encourage everyone to apply because our goal is to ensure that we are empowering trusted messengers at the community level to ensure that we are reaching deep into people's communities and meeting people where they are.”