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Monday, April 27, 2015

Get her!

I opened USAC's Annual Report when it first came out, but then the filing window got in the way, so I'm finally getting back to it.  If you're looking for a reasoned summary, you should know better than to look here.  As usual, it's just going to be a waggish look at whatever pops out at me.

My first laugh: the "Interactive PDF" version was OK, but the first three pages of the vanilla PDF version says:
Alas, I guess someone noticed and now the USAC PDFs both have two-page-wide layouts, so "TOGETHER" is no longer split, but the FCC retains the old, threatening version.

Staying with the snark, here's part of the USAC CEO's opening statement:
"In 2014, the FCC continued to pursue an aggressive modernization agenda for the universal service programs.... These changes have created a dynamic and exciting environment for our organization...."
"Holy crap!  Did you have to change everything in one year?!"

"High Cost Program"?  I thought it was renamed the Connect America Fund.  That change should happen now, because "High Cost" is a terrible name for a government program.

"Lifeline Program"?  When did the Low Income Program get a name change?

The Service Providers Participating by Funding Year graph on page 13 is interesting for a couple of reasons:
  1. The graph only shows the last five years, so it ignores that there were once over 8,000 service providers in the program.
  2. The number of service providers dropped by 10% from 2013 to 2014.  Meanwhile, P2 demand dropped by only 3.6%.  Why would that be?  I'm guessing that every year, a new batch of P2 providers thought they'd found the Promised Land, but left the program in dejection, to be replaced by an eager new crop every year, and after 15 years, there aren't any naive P2 vendors left to replace the dejected ones that are leaving.
I expect a large drop in the number of service providers in 2015, with so many services cut out of the program.

Here's an incorrect statement on page 12: "USAC paid nearly 98 percent of invoices within 30 days of receipt."   Do a little math on the invoicing numbers on page 16, and you'll see that 6% of invoices were rejected.  And it's not clear whether that includes "pass zero" invoices, where the invoice is approved, but for $0.00, so nothing is paid.  So USAC paid at most 94% of invoices.

Page 16 has a chilling blast from the past: "internal controls."  Years ago, that was PIA's way of saying "mind your own business" whenever you tried to find out why you were being asked all these questions.  Now we have the secret 700-page tome of PIA "procedures," and "internal controls" means that USAC is keeping track of its money.

Ooh, let's play with the application processing numbers on page 16.  The FY 2014 numbers don't look too bad: by the end of 2014, half way through the funding year, only 5.7% of applications remained undecided.  Not bad.  About 53.1% of applications were approved before the start of the funding year, which seems low unless you know the recent history of the program.

The FY 2013 numbers aren't so pretty.  At the end of the funding year (2Q 2014), 5.7% of the applications were undecided.  At the end of 2014, six months after the end of the funding year, the undecided percentage was down to 4.7%.  At that rate, they'll finish up sometime in 2018.

The percentage of applications rejected seems pretty steady around 17%.  Wait, what is a "rejected" application?  A 471 that was rejected before looking at individual FRNs (for example, an application filed outside the funding window, or never certified)?  A 471 on which all FRNs were denied (perhaps en masse due to, for example, not having a 470, or each dismissed on its own (lack of) merits)?  A 471 on which at least one FRN was denied?

I find I don't have much patience for the financials, but let's see what catches my eye.  Looks like USAC is holding almost $8.5 billion to cover future payouts under "Assets held for the Federal USF."  That's up from $7.7 billion in 2013 (and $5.4 billion in 2006).  Is this where the Chairman is going to get his extra $1 billion/year?  I'm betting it's just the CAF reserve that the FCC started building at the end of 2011.

I am tempted to do some analysis of the table on page 43, but I did that analysis last year, and I doubt much has changed.

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