- What are eligible project costs?
Eligible project costs include terrestrial capital expenses directly related to a qualified broadband project, including design, construction, engineering, make readies, permitting expenses and validation of service. Maintenance or operating expenses related to the project do not qualify as an eligible expense.
- Can the grant fund middle-mile only projects?
The purpose of the grant is to deploy last-mile broadband infrastructure to residential and business locations in unserved areas within Indiana. Grant dollars can only be used for middle-mile related costs if it is necessary in order to provide last-mile service.
- What areas are eligible for grant funding?
Areas that do not currently have fixed service of at least actual 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed.
- What is the maximum grant amount?
The maximum grant amount per project is $5 million.
- Will certain types of technology receive preference?
The Office of Community and Rural Affairs is technology agnostic and will not select an application based solely on the proposed technology solution.
- Will certain speed levels receive preference?
Because the funds allocated to this program are part of Indiana’s appropriation of the US Department of Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, projects that provide technology solutions of 100 Mbps/100 Mbps or greater will receive priority of funding. All proposed projects must be at least 50/5 to be considered eligible.
- Are partial census blocks eligible?
An applicant may elect to include census blocks that would be partially served by the proposed project. The applicant must identify in the Excel document if a census block would be partially served by the proposed project.
- Does the project area need to be contiguous?
No. The project area may include areas that are not adjacent to each other. However, the State of Indiana reserves the right to fund partial applications.
- What service addresses are ineligible?
Any service address that has already received NLC Broadband Grant funding or was allocated funding from the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is not eligible. Service addresses where actual speeds are more than 25 Mbps downstream within a census block that received other federal funding such as Connect America Fund, Broadband Technology Opportunities Fund, or State Broad Initiative are not eligible for NLC funding. Any service address that currently has 25 Mbps downstream is ineligible for funding.
- What census blocks are eligible for funding?
OCRA has provided a list of the unserved census blocks within Indiana on the Next Level Connections webpage. This serves as a starting point since the FCC Form 477 data does not holistically capture every end-user. Applicants may elect to include census blocks and address level data shown as served within the data and have the opportunity within the Full Application to provide evidence that the census block is truly unserved.
- What is the eligibility of service addresses that received a valid challenge in the first and second rounds?
Service addresses that were challenged in previous rounds are not applied in Round III. The focus remains on the unserved service addresses within Indiana. Challengers will need to submit another challenge against the service addresses and census blocks proposed in the Letters of Intent.
- If non-terrestrial providers are ineligible entities based on the “qualified broadband project” definition, will they be able to challenge census blocks?
Non-terrestrial providers will not be eligible to challenge census blocks unless they meet the criteria in the “qualified broadband provider” definition.
- What version of the FCC Form 477 data is in the map?
The map utilizes the June 2020 v1 data as provided by the FCC website.
Letter of Intent
- What documents should be submitted for the Letter of Intent?
OCRA will only accept the two documents outlined in the Round 3 Application for the Letter of Intent phase:
(1) Letter of Intent (pdf)
(2) Census Block and Address Level Data List (excel)
Any additional documentation must not be submitted at this phase of the application.
- Can an applicant apply for multiple grants in the same funding round?
Yes, an applicant may submit multiple eligible proposals for a single round provided that each application describes a unique project area.
- Should applicants include supporting evidence of an area shown as served that should be considered unserved?
Unserved evidence will not be accepted during the Letter of Intent phase. The applicant will have the opportunity to present this information within the Project Impact section of the Project Narrative, and other corresponding documents of their Full Application submission.
- How many Full Applications can be submitted if one Letter of Intent is submitted?
An applicant may submit one Full Application for each Letter of Intent that is submitted on time and deemed eligible. Applicants will be notified if their LOI meets the requirements and the entity is invited to submit a Full Application.
- Will applicants be allowed to adjust their proposed project area (service addresses and census blocks) and grant request after submitting the Letter of Intent?
Applicants will be able to adjust the grant request amount and the local match amount in the Full Application submission. Proposed project areas may only remove service addresses and census blocks but may not include additional blocks that are not identified in the Letter of Intent.
- What is the commitment associated with submitting a Letter of Intent?
There is no commitment in submitting a LOI, and an applicant is not required to submit a Full Application. Applicants will not be eligible to submit a Full Application if a LOI is not submitted on time or is not considered compliant as described in Section II.D of Round 3 Application. The only exceptions are providers that submit a Competitive Application based on an initial Full Application already submitted after the challenge process.
- If an applicant has multiple projects, should the applicant submit an individual Letter of Intent for each project and the corresponding service addresses and census blocks? Or should the applicant submit multiple projects under one Letter of Intent?
Applicants may submit multiple LOIs provided that each LOI describes a unique project area. For each LOI submitted and deemed eligible, the applicant will be invited to submit a Full Application. It is up to the applicant whether they would like to group all service addresses and census blocks into one total project or submit multiple LOIs for the separate project areas.
- Are the customers served for 2018, 2019 and 2020 broadband customers only, or all customers receiving other services i.e. electrical customers?
The responses must be total broadband customers as defined by the legislation in IC 4-4-38-4.
- How will the office address when multiple providers apply for the same proposed project areas?
OCRA will evaluate each application on its own merits during merit review phase after the Full and Competitive Applications are submitted. Proposed project areas will not be compared or evaluated by OCRA during the LOI phase. If multiple applications with the same proposed project area are recommended for selection of an award, the Office will utilize the preferences in the legislation along with other program factors to determine which application is selected for an award.
- Is there a Microsoft Word template for the Letter of Intent?
OCRA will not create a Word template but will accept a Word version of the template as long as all the required information is included.
- If an applicant is in the process of working on a partnership, but a partnership has not been created yet, can we still submit LOI?
A partnership must select one entity to serve as the prime applicant for the purposes of the Letter of Intent and Full Application unless the partnership is forming a separate business organization. The prime applicant must be an eligible entity under the requirements in the application. The applicant should utilize the associated business information for the prime entity.
- What is an Indiana Bidder Number?
A bidder number is required in many State of Indiana procurement processes, including grant contracts. Businesses are required to have a bidder profile with the Indiana Department of Administration. The Bidder Profile creates a unique ID for the business.
- Does an applicant need to have an Indiana Bidder Number in order to submit an LOI?
OCRA recommends that an applicant have an Indiana Bidder Number, but it is not required to submit the LOI. The registered business ID number is required so OCRA can verify the creation date of the applicant entity for purposes of eligibility.
- Will OCRA publish the Address Level Data and the Census Blocks on their website?
In accordance with Indiana legislation passed in 2021, OCRA must publish all address level data submitted with each LOI on their website for comment and challenge.
- Can a fixed wireless provider challenge census blocks?
Fixed wireless is an allowable technology type under the terms of the program and may submit challenges to proposed census blocks.
- How will an incumbent provider submit an accurate challenge if the LOIs are an estimate?
The Letter of Intent is the maximum proposed project area that an applicant may choose to submit a Full Application. This allows providers to challenge areas based on this information.
- How will an incumbent provider challenge address level data in a partial census block?
The Letters of Intent will provide the service addresses and census block list and a project summary that will be published for the challenge phase. Challenges are required to include documentation based on the census block and the addresses the provider currently serves, can deploy service in ten days or plan to provide service within 18 months.
- Should a partially served census block percentage be calculated based on population or geographic area?
If a census block is partially served by an incumbent provider, the percentage should be calculated on the amount of passings served within the block relative to the total amount of passings within the census block.
- Does a Professional Engineer need to stamp/sign the technical specifications for a challenge submission?
Technical Specifications submitted as part of a challenge are not required to have a signature or stamp from a PE. The Affidavit submitted must verify that the challenger has the capacity to provide minimum actual speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, and that the broadband infrastructure is designed to meet the identified needs of the challenged service addresses and census blocks.
- If a challenge is submitted for addresses where service can be deployed in 10 days, is there specific documentation that should be included to validate deployment plans?
If service can be deployed within ten days, documentation will need to include a service order record, or work order for construction to the premise, or verification of service of at least 25/3 for each address. Other types of documents are outlined in the Challenge Phase Instructions.
- If a challenge is submitted for a planned deployment, is there specific documentation that should be included to validate construction plans?
There is not specific documentation that must be included for planned construction aside from the required documents outlined in the Challenge Phase Instructions.
- Is an area considered unserved if a challenger does not provide service to every address within the census block?
OCRA is aware that many census blocks are partially served or split between multiple providers, therefore OCRA requires address level information to be supplied relative to each census block being challenged.
- Are challenges based solely on FCC Form 477 data?
Challenges are not based on Form 477 data alone. A Challenger may submit a challenge based on whether the entity is already providing eligible broadband service, can deploy service to an address in ten days or has the ability to verify plans to provide service by March 2023 to an individual address.
- How will an applicant be notified if any of the service addresses in the census blocks in their application are validly challenged?
OCRA anticipates publishing the challenge decisions on the website in time to allow applicants to make corresponding adjustments to their applications prior to the submission deadline. An announcement will be sent out when the information is available. OCRA plans to notify applicants if their proposed project area is impacted by the challenge determinations.
- Will OCRA provide the names of the entities challenging address level data and census blocks?
The names of the organizations that have submitted a valid challenge will be published with the validly challenged address level data and census blocks. If there are multiple organizations, then all names will be noted by census block.
- Will OCRA provide the challenger with a specific reason the challenge was deemed invalid?
Challengers will receive an email from OCRA stating whether a challenge is considered valid or invalid, and if invalid, a specific reason will be stated in the email.
- Will OCRA provide the address level data submitted by a challenger to the applicants?
The address level data submitted by a challenger will be made publicly available. OCRA will utilize the address level information submitted by both the applicant and challenger during the Full Application review and scoring period to evaluate individual locations and whether or not they are eligible to receive funding under the program requirements.
- If an applicant includes a validly challenged service address or census block in their Full Application, will the Application be eliminated from the opportunity to receive a grant award?
If an applicant chooses to include a validly challenged service address or census block in their Full Application it will not necessarily eliminate the application from consideration, as long as the application is competitive through the review process. If an application is competitive, OCRA may choose to negotiate project areas with an applicant by utilizing the address level data provided to the Office by both the applicant and the challenger.
- Will applicants be able to appeal a challenge decision?
There will not be a direct appeal process for applicants to appeal a challenge decision. Applicants may choose to provide additional evidence that an area should be considered unserved. OCRA may fund partially served census blocks if the addresses proposed do not overlap with an incumbent provider’s service areas that meet the 25:3 actual speed minimum.
- Will challengers be able to appeal an invalid challenge decision?
There will not be a direct appeal process for challengers that receive an invalid challenge. Decisions will be based on the content and form of the required documentation outlined in the Challenge Phase Instructions document available on the website.
- Will the format and documents for the grant application be the same as Round II?
The content and form of the requirements are very similar but some of the requirements have changed based on legislation passed in the 2021 legislative session.
- Can Round I or II applications be resubmitted, including census blocks that were considered ineligible for funding?
Applicants may resubmit proposed project areas in Round III, and any application must meet the content and form requirements described in Section II.C.
- Is a letter of intent required?
Yes, a letter of intent is required to be eligible to submit a Full Application. The only exceptions are providers that submit a Competitive Application based on an initial Full Application already submitted.
- Can an applicant combine two of more LOI's into one application if enough service address and census blocks were challenged on each LOI?
An applicant may combine two or more Letters of Intent into one application, as long as it is clearly spelled out that the census blocks were proposed under another control number and now combined into one application. No new census blocks may be proposed when combining control numbers into one applications.
- Is address level data required?
Yes, applicants must submit revised address level data with the proposed census blocks in the Census Block List excel document. This must include locations that proposed service will be available as a result of the project, if awarded.
- What should the applicant provide for the Certificate of Territorial Authority?
An applicant should include the cause number in the Project Narrative document, and may also choose to include a pdf copy of their CTA as an appendix though this is not required.
- Is the value of a tax abatement considered to be local match?
Local match must be provided in the form of cash. Tax abatements would not qualify as cash match.
- Can an applicant use its own employees to lay fiber and include that cost toward the grant amount?
The applicant may use its own employees and request reimbursement for those hours under the appropriate line item. For example, if the employee completed construction related to the project, the grantee would request reimbursement under the construction budget category for this work.
- Is there a standardized survey that can be used to represent unserved areas? Are there specific questions that should be included in a survey?
OCRA does not require a specific format or set of questions to be utilized in a survey to gather unserved data. It is up to each applicant to determine the most applicable question set for the proposed area. There is an Excel Survey data template included in Round III’s application instruction.
- Does OCRA have a preferred speed test tool to gather end-user data?
OCRA does not give preference to a specific tool.
- What level of detail is required for the application in terms of the network design?
A preliminary technical evaluation of the project is required. It must include a project cost estimate, project schedule and maps showing the proposed project area. It should be certified by a Professional Engineer (PE).
- What are some examples of community support that an applicant can provide?
The types of community support are flexible depending on the impact this project will have on the community located in the proposed grant area. Some examples could include: letters from educational institutions, healthcare facilities, local elected officials, and future customers in support of the proposed project. This would also include the Broadband Ready certification for the proposed project area.
Community support comprises a portion of the scoring, so OCRA recommends applicants begin collecting this information as early as possible. Applicants are encouraged to work with community partners to identify ways to utilize the proposed infrastructure.
- What information should be included in a letter of need from residents, businesses, and community members?
A letter of need should clearly explain the need for broadband connectivity within the proposed project area. OCRA recommends that letters of need and support include both quantitative and qualitative information.
Quantitative information may include, but is not limited to, current service levels and/or pricing, speed test information, cost to install, address and census block, etc. Qualitative information may include the inability to complete educational or work requirements, workforce development, access to healthcare and telemedicine, etc.
- Can an applicant utilize letters of support that were submitted in previous applications?
Any letter of support should reflect the time period for the current funding round, and in the case of Round III, all letters should be dated no earlier than July 1, 2021.
- Are organizations applying for the grant allowed to either reference OCRA and Next Level Connections or utilize the logo in efforts to obtain community, business, and anchor institution support?
Applicants may reference the grant program and OCRA in their efforts to obtain support, but may not utilize the logos.
- What is the Competitive Application?
The Competitive Application phase, as outlined in the 2021 Indiana Legislation, is when an applicant can submit a Competitive Application in response to a published initial Full Application indicating the competitive applicant could provide eligible broadband service for at least the same service level and to the same project area at a lower cost to the state.
- Does a Competitive Application have to be the same project area as the Full Application?
The Competitive Application must have the same address level data and census blocks as the Full Application it is based on. To be considered, the Competitive Application must have a lower grant request than the initial Full Application for at least the same service level for all of the project area.
- Does a Competitive Application first go through the LOI Phase or Challenge Phase?
Since the Competitive Application is based on service addresses and census blocks in a submitted Full Application, all of the service addresses and LOIs have been reviewed and determined eligible for inclusion in an application.
- What documents are required in a Competitive Application?
The Competitive Application must meet all of the requirements as a Full Application. The requirements are outlined in the NLC Round III instructions.
- How will Competitive Applications be scored?
Competitive Applications will be scored just like a Full Application. Scoring Criteria is outlined in the NLC Round III instructions.
- What is a passing?
Passing is an address that service is/would be available at the location. OCRA has identified four types of passings: household, business, anchor institution and farm/agribusinesses. Business is defined as all business types, home-based businesses, and work-at-home/telecommuter use of broadband. Anchor institution is defined as community facilities including public safety buildings like fire and police buildings; hospitals, educational buildings, community centers, libraries; and city, county, state and town buildings.
- What is a terrestrial connection?
Terrestrial connection is defined as a fixed connection, and not service provided by mobile or satellite carriers. Applications may propose to complete the project with any technology capable of supporting the service levels described in Section I.C.i. of the Round III Application.
- What is a “unique project area” as stated in Section E. Limitation on Submissions?
Unique project area means the proposed project area is a different set of census blocks for each submission. An applicant cannot submit the same project area multiple times.
- What does it mean for the service to be “available?”
Determination of service availability will be based on the definition used by the FCC. Service is defined as being available if the provider does, or could, within a service interval that is typical for that type of connection—that is, without an extraordinary commitment of resources—provide two-way data transmission at the speeds prescribed.
A screenshot from a provider’s website demonstrating the lack of service availability at a specific address is an example of evidence that can be provided to prove that service is not available at that location; however, final determinations will be based on all the evidence submitted in the application and during the public comment period.
- What does it mean that service could be “deployed in ten days”?
Determination of ten day service deployment will be based on the definition recently passed in Indiana Legislation. Service is defined as being available if the provider does, or could, within ten days, without an extraordinary commitment of resources or construction charges or fees exceeding an ordinary service activation fee, provide 25/3 broadband Internet at the location.
- What is the definition of “statistically significant survey data”?
OCRA follows procedures that surveys must be statistically significant at the 95% confidence level and confidence interval of five. Applicant may utilize the Sample Size Calculator that OCRA recommends when entities are unsure of what their sample size should be for a proposed project area. In order to overturn a validly challenged service address, there must be associated survey data from that address.
- Can you clarify the definition of last mile and middle-mile?
The last mile refers to network infrastructure that carries signals from the network to and from the home or business. Depending on network design and density of the area served, the actual distance of the last mile can be relatively short or may be considerably longer than a mile.
Middle-mile refers to the portion of the telecommunications network that connects a network operator’s core network to the local network (last mile) plant. Middle-mile facilities provide fast, large capacity connections and can range from a few miles to a few hundred miles.
- Will the Letter of Intent webinar recording be available?
The slide deck and the recording from the Letter of Intent webinar will be available on OCRA’s Next Level Connections webpage after the scheduled webinar.
- Will the Full Application webinar recording be available?
The recording from the Full Application webinar will be available on OCRA’s Next Level Connections webpage after the scheduled webinar.
- How will OCRA determine the results of conflicting speed tests?
OCRA will determine the final decision on differing speed test results on a case-by-case basis. OCRA reserves the right to ask for additional information including requiring conversations with the providers and residents.
- Will funded projects be required to pay prevailing wages?
No, projects will not be required to pay prevailing wages. However, funded projects will be required to report on whether prevailing wages were paid in order to meet the ARPA requirements. Reporting requirements will be shared with funded projects.
- Will OCRA publish competitive challenges?
Yes, applications received as part of the new competitive applications, including scope of work and budgets, will be published.
- What information should be submitted to provide justification for projects unable to meet the 100/100 speed requirements?
Each project will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Providers are encouraged to contact OCRA with any pertinent information you feel would be helpful to explain why those speeds are not possible prior to submitting an LOI to discuss the practicability for a project to deliver 100/100 speeds with the project’s geography, topography or financial challenges.
- How does OCRA define minimum broadband internet for eligibility of addresses?
As defined by Indiana Code, minimum broadband internet means a terrestrial connection to the Internet that provides reliable actual speeds of at least twenty-five (25) megabits per second downstream and at least three (3) megabits per second upstream, regardless of the technology or medium used to provide the connection. Any Indiana address not receiving reliable broadband internet meeting these criteria will be eligible for inclusion in the program.
- Will any form of technology be prioritized?
OCRA will not discriminate between different types of technology used to provide qualified broadband service in connection with proposed qualified broadband projects.
- What is the definition of eligible broadband internet for households and businesses?
As defined by Indiana Code, broadband Internet means connection to the Internet that provides reliable actual speeds of at least fifty (50) megabits per second downstream and at least five (5) megabits per second upstream, regardless of the technology or medium used to provide the connection for households and businesses.
- Why are some of the defaulted RDOF census blocks not included as eligible on the map and census block list? OCRA reviewed all defaulted RDOF funded census blocks to ensure they met all requirements to become eligible for NLC Round 3. If a RDOF default block is not listed as eligible, it is because the FCC Form 477 data shows: 1) the block already has internet speeds greater or equal to 25/3; or 2) the block has previously received NLC funding.