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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Buy your own damned phone

Another area of confusion created by the Clarification Order, which was an attempt to ameliorate the brain seizures we were suffering from trying to figure out what the Sixth Report & Order meant. The FCC tried to right thing by explaining that they weren't going to punish applicants who get a free cell phone from their provider as part of a 2-year contract, just like everyone else on the planet does. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. A certain VoIP provider (and if you filed a Form 470 last year, you know who I mean) came up with an analogous plan where if you signed up, they would give you a free desk phone.  SECA could see where this was headed and asked for clarification.  The FCC sees the need, and has asked for comments.

Here's my comment to the FCC: get out of the procurement regulation business.

Yep, I'm in full curmudgeon mode today.

SECA has proposed 4 rules, which the FCC parrotted in their Request for Comment:
  1. The cost of any end-user equipment provided as a part of a bundled service must be considered “ancillary” relative to the cost of the bundle as a whole; 
  2. The bundled service offering must be deemed a commercially common practice within the industry, not a unique offering of an individual service provider; 
  3. The arrangement must be currently available to the public and not just to a designated class of subscribers;and, 
  4. The service provider is not permitted to offer a package or packages of equivalent eligible services, without bundled end-user equipment, at a lower price.
My opinion of those rules:
  1. Here's where it should begin and end: the ineligible free stuff must meet the requirements for "Ancillary Use" as outlined in the Eligible Services List, and be done.
  2. OK, but doesn't that stifle innovation?  You can't take advantage of a deal until everyone is offering it?  And what do you mean by "industry"?  The dozen or so companies that form the "school Web hosting industry" all offer a plethora of services which are not available in the wider Web hosting industry.  So if we apply the standards of the wider industry, suddenly all the value-added hosting proposals have to go through the Free Services wringer.  Uh oh, look for a another storm of spamments from the Web hosts' clients.  (I just invented "spamment" to describe the torrent of comments that came in when Web hosts sent their clients a form letter and told them to resend it to the FCC.)
  3. This rule kills the free cell phones.  Because those free phones are only available to people signing a new multi-year contract.  Subscribers in the middle of a contract and those who don't want a contract (or can't get one because of their terrible credit history) cannot get a free phone.  So free cell phones are only available to a designated class of subscribers.
  4. This is a good idea, but telecommunications companies have so many packages, even they can't keep track of them.  Determining which packages are "equivalent" is a rabbithole I don't want to go down.
Taking a step further back, public entities should not be getting free cell phones, anyway.  Take a look at the state contract in your state, and I'll bet it has month-to-month phone service with phone purchases.  Because the standard cell phone agreement is wrong for a public school or library for a few reasons:
  1. Multi-year commitment.  Government contracting officers should not be signing agreements which obligate the government to make payments if no funding has been approved.  A two-year contract is bad government contracting practice.  
  2. The public entity owns that phone.  Did you forget to put that $650 iPhone in your inventory, just because you didn't pay anything for it?  And have you been complying with state and FCC rules about disposal of that piece of equipment?  (Hmm, do FCC inventory requirements extend to ineligible equipment that you got for free with a service that E-Rate funded?)
  3. The superintendent you're buying service for is pretty likely to leave mid-contract, anyway.  You did remember to get that phone from the last superintendent who left, right?
So the answer to this quandary is: don't allow free phones.  Not cell phones, not desk phones.  Force public entities to do what they should be doing anyway: buying the phone and paying month-to-month.  And force the private schools to do it, too, because I want to see what happens when the FCC tries to force government procurement nonsense on a bunch of nuns.  Those women don't even take crap from the Pope.

Taking a step further back, the FCC could just start enforcing rules about off-campus use of cell phones (there is no exception in the ESL for use of cell phones from ineligible locations), and suddenly no one will be able to apply for E-Rate funding for cell phones.

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