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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Want to know the rules? Guess.

The most cynical statement in the new Eligible Services List?  "documents on USAC’s website are not incorporated by reference into the ESL and do not bind the Commission. Thus, they will not be used to determine whether a service or product is eligible. Applicants and service providers are free to refer to those documents, but just for informal guidance."

I shouldn't really complain, since they are just being explicit about something that's always been true: USAC's website is full of their best guesses as to what the rules are.  The FCC has chosen to be crystal clear: information on the USAC website are not rules.  USAC's decisions on eligibility are educated guesses.

And that's the real problem I have with the new ESL.  See, the ESL is binding.  It's a chunk of FCC-approved rules.  By shortening the ESL and moving information like the glossary to the USAC website, they have changed all those words from rule to guidance.  (Which the FCC can later treat as a rule if they want to, like they did with an old PowerPoint slide.)

So what is meant by, for example, "Interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP)"?  No one knows.  There will be "guidance" on the USAC website, but the FCC can make up whatever definition it wants, at any point in the future.

Back at my first USAC training (back when it was a closed "train-the-trainer" affair), when USAC asked how the program could be improved, my first suggestion was "publish a rule book."  And SECA requested a Comprehensive Requirements Manual back in 2011.

Now we're moving in the opposite direction.  The FCC is taking the small part of eligibility rules that were written, and unwriting most of them.  I've said before that the ESL should be much bigger, including rules on on-premise priority one equipment, leased WANs, cost allocation, etc.  It would be an intimidating book, but at least we'd know what the rules are, instead of wandering in the fog.

So where are the rules?  Spread across FCC orders.  So you're thinking, "C'mon, Dan, don't be lazy.  Just read the orders.  I mean, how many can there be?"  To which I answer: "There are over 500."  My quick count found 558, but I think maybe I counted some things that weren't really orders.  On the other hand, there may be more secret appeal decisions out there, so maybe my count is low.

If we're all expected to know the content of 500 orders, could we at least have an index?

And don't think you can skim the orders: the good stuff is often in the footnotes.  For example, the unkillable "two-signature/two-date" rule was finally killed by a footnote.

And unfortunately, even if you read all 500 orders, there's a good chance that there is no rule to cover your eligibility question.  So you're back to guessing.

I feel like the ESL was like a little rock we could cling to in the swirling sea of unwritten E-Rate requirements, and now the FCC has dynamited that rock, leaving us almost nothing to cling to.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Obfuscated Eligibility List

The final Eligible Services List for Funding Year 2015-2016 is out.  Since it's basically like the draft ESL, most of my comments on the draft apply to the final (except they added MPLS and made WAP antennas eligible).  Still, I can't let some of the things in the order pass uncriticized.

To address "uncertainty among some applicants regarding services that are no longer eligible for E-rate support..., we include as Appendix B to this order a chart identifying the equipment and services that were eligible for E-rate support in funding year 2014, but are no longer eligible as of funding year 2015."  So that 1% of applicants who actually read FCC orders will be aware of these changes.  The other 99% who rely on the ESL will just have to be alert.

"The ESL is not intended to serve as the central collection for all E-rate program rules and policies. Even the current ESL is not dispositive of all of the precedent related to E-rate program eligibility. It would be inappropriate to leave applicants and service providers with the impression that the ESL is a comprehensive source of all information pertaining to E-rate eligibility. As we have emphasized, applicants and service providers are required to know the relevant rules of the E-rate program and are ultimately responsible for compliance with them."
What I'm hearing is:
"It would be too much work for us to search out all the eligibility rules in this program and put them in one document, so we're requiring each of the 20,000 applicants to search out all of those rules.  And we hope that by making the ESL so obviously inadequate, it will be clearer to applicants that they have a lot more searching to do."

What is the correct spelling for the sound of teeth grinding?

"there may be other high-speed broadband services that fall within the rubric of eligible digital transmission and Internet access services."  First of all, no need to say "may be";  there "are" other digital transmission services.  Second of all, what happened to the "if it's not on the list, it's not eligible" principle?  Now they seem to be saying, "if it's not on the list, it 'may be' eligible."  At least they put MPLS on the list.

Hey, they defined caching!  That's good news.  I'll be interested to see how many ISPs start offering a caching service which uses On-Premise Priority Category One Equipment.

My concern about antennas has been addressed.  That's a relief.

So my quixotic crusades against cell phones, voice service in general and video have succeeded (and 2-in-5 is also gone, kind of, maybe temporarily).  So I think I'll focus my wrath on On-Premise Priority Category One Equipment.  In addition to being a crock, if has proven over and over to be a loophole too tempting for service providers to resist (remember the Sprint case?).  And with the new C2 budgets, even the 90% applicants will have an incentive to push their equipment into C1.  Let's get it out of the program.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Stupid 470 trick

Probably no one but me cares about this stuff, but here's something pointless you can do with the Form 470.

You know how Item 9 (Internet Access) has vanished off the form, and is now "[Reserved]"?  Well, if you pine for the full Item 9, you can still see it on new 470s.

So you fill out a new 470, then go back to view it, you will get a link something like this:
http://www.slforms.universalservice.org/Form470Expert/5/PrintPreview.aspx?appl_id=xxxxxxx,
where xxxxxxx is the last 7 digits of the Form 470. (Don't know why the last 7 digits?  Here's why.)
If you delete that "5/" out of the middle, poof! Item 9 is back!  By the way, it will be a duplicate of Item 8.

Don't have a new 470 to play with?  Use the links below to open the newest 470 at the time of this blog posting.
http://www.slforms.universalservice.org/Form470Expert/5/PrintPreview.aspx?appl_id=1242354
http://www.slforms.universalservice.org/Form470Expert/PrintPreview.aspx?appl_id=1242354

And yes, if you are tired of looking at Item 9 from old 470s, you can insert the "5/" and Item 9 will vanish.  Don't worry, it's just the display; nothing gets deleted or overwritten.