Cool and Connected – a funding opportunity to expand broadband in communities.

Communities all across Maine are recognizing that access to high quality, affordable reliable broadband is a critical element to their community and economic future.  Whether it’s improving access to health care through telemedicine, encouraging telecommuting, expanding business opportunities – or just being able to watch Netflix and video chat with your kids, high quality broadband has become a required utility.

The big question is how to do it –how do communities expand broadband coverage as part of their strategy to remain viable into the future.

Well, there is no silver bullet.  No one answer.  In fact, it’s more of a shotgun approach.  One of those pieces of buckshot is federal USDA funds.  In fact, just recently the USDA Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Sustainable Communities announced its Cool and Connected pilot program for this year.

This program is to help communities interested  using broadband service to help revitalize small-town main streets and promote economic development are encouraged to apply for Cool & Connected, a pilot program sponsored by USDA Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Sustainable Communities.

The notice from USDA notes that:

Quality broadband access can provide new opportunities for people and businesses. A growing number of communities have combined broadband service with other local assets such as cultural and recreational amenities to attract and retain investment and people, including young people. This can help diversify local economies. Such efforts typically require planning among community leaders, businesses, and internet service providers. The Cool & Connected program will provide assistance to this end, helping communities take advantage of new or existing broadband service to create walkable, connected, economically vibrant main streets and small-town neighborhoods.

Here is the link to the program page.  Note, this request is for the 2015 grant, and the webpage has not been updated yet. The information is the same for 2016 and 2015 though.

The program is encouraging any community representative to submit a letter of interest to participate in the program.  The program will give special consideration to small towns and rural communities that fact economic challenges, and to communities where USDA has previously provided loans or grants in support of broadband or other internet related services.

The program requests that you email your letter of interest no longer than two pages.   The letter should describe community needs and challenges related to downtown revitalization or other place-based development, and how a planning process might help.  Including areas of interest related to internet services. This might include attracting new types of businesses to downtowns or rural communities, using broadband to attract new investors, tourists or residents, downtown hotspots, extending service beyond community anchor institutions, or to include those institutions or community facilities in getting broadband services

Your community’s letter should include partners that will work with you, including internet service providers, businesses or community organizations.

If you are interested, please submit your letter of interest to Ed Fendley by Wednesday, February 24, 2016.  Make sure to include “Cool & Connected” and the name of your community in your e-mail subject line. You should also contact Mr. Fendley if you have any questions about the program.

Good Luck!