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Monday, March 14, 2011


Regular readers know that I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to terminology: the BEN mess, the meaning of RFP, the proper capitalization of E-Rate, and on and on.

But words do matter, and the latest USAC News Brief creates a mess by misusing the word "extension." USAC's problem is that they want to know how many lines an applicant has, and apparently some applicants were reporting the number of billed account numbers. So they asked applicants to give them the number of lines, not the number of accounts. OK, that's fine, but they referred to those lines as "extensions." That won't cause confusions for most applicants without a phone system, since they are paying for a phone line for each extension.

But applicants with a phone system are going to start sending the wrong info. In a phone system (from a little key system to a big PBX), there is a distinction between "lines" and "extensions."
When someone says "lines" they mean "external lines," the lines that you're paying the phone company for. "Extensions" is the number of phones connected to the phone system. So a dinky key system might have 4 lines and 16 extensions. A PBX might have 46 lines (coming in on two PRI circuits) and 500 extensions.

USAC says, "Be sure to include those lines and extensions in your line count." Which makes it sound like the owner of the key system should report 20 lines (4 external lines and 16 extensions), and the PBX owner should report 546 lines. Those numbers are adding together apples and oranges, and do not give a clear picture of usage.

Precise wording matters, and USAC should clarify that they want to know about all the lines that appear on a phone bill, but do not want internal extensions included in line counts.

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