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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What $150/student gets you these days

Is $150/student (or $153.47/student) enough to cover Category Two costs?  I think not.

Here's today's data point:
A client is building a new middle school.  That means they need everything.  What will their C2 budget cover?  Well, it's almost enough to cover access points (in the box, not installed) and cable (boxes of Cat6 cable, not pulling or terminating (in fact, not even terminating hardware)).  So no switches, routers, LAN controllers, licensing, etc.  To say nothing of the cost of installing or maintaining any of it.

The total of all eligible C2 costs for the building is closer to $500/student.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Wood shed? Firing squad?

Commissioner O'Rielly, who is now Chairman of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, has put USAC on notice!  Chris Henderson, the USAC CEO, resigned this week.  Usually, I'd expect to see some sort of "thank you for your service" from one of the Commissioners, but instead, Commissioner O'Rielly fired off this cannonade: "“The departure of its CEO presents an opportunity for the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to clean up its act. ... Absent significant and timely improvements, I believe that all options should be on the table, including putting USAC’s functions out for contract...."

The tone is similar to Chairman Pai's recent missive to USAC, but Pai's letter just said, "You need to shape up!" whereas O'Rielly's says, "Shape up or ship out!"

Should the FCC actually consider firing USAC?  Well....

Long term?  Yes, they should at least consider it.  I find it ... um ... "interesting" that the company running this program is "a not-for-profit, independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc. (“NECA”)."   NECA is the lobbying firm for the telephone companies.  Even more "interesting," about a quarter of USAC's operating expenses are paid to Solix, a for-profit subsidiary of NECA.   That just doesn't smell dainty, although it would be hard to find an organization that was both competent to run the program and free of any industry ties.  Still, it would look nice if the FCC at least looked at other options.

Short term?  No.  In a time of turmoil for the program, we don't need a whole new organization running things.  There has been a lot of turnover at the top, but there is still a lot of institutional knowledge in the trenches.  This past year, I often find myself responding to USAC decisions with, "WTF?", but occasionally it's, "Now that's good thinking."  If USAC is replaced, there would be a lot more "WTF?"

Personally?  No.  In general, I like the people at USAC, and I want them to keep their jobs.

If the FCC does decide to replace USAC, I hope they'll make a careful search and have a nice, long period of transition.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

EPC fail-of-the-day

This is a fun one.

I don't know how often this happens, but sometimes when you're working on a 471 and you leave it for a while, when you come back and click on it in your Tasks list, you get:
Error message

You can't get back to that 471.  Ever.  You have to start a new one.  It's been dubbed the "Vanishing 471" trick.

But that bug is no fun on its own.  It just creates panic ("What did I do?  Where did it go? Was it submitted?") and more work.  To make it fun, we need to add in another bug.

There is another EPC "feature" that I call the "Midnight Save & Share" trick.  Occasionally, at midnight EPC selects a few incomplete 471s (no one has ever figured out the selection criteria) and basically presses the “Save & Share” button.  It's just as if the form's owner had clicked "Save & Share": the owner can no longer access the form, and it appears on the Tasks list of every other user with permissions for that form.

(Side rant: when I "Save & Share" a form, why can't I look at that form any more?  Really, it's more like "Save & Give Away.")

That bug isn't fun, either.  It just creates panic ("What did I do?  Where did it go? Was it submitted?") and more work.  But for those of us unfortunate to be habituated to these failures, the combination of those two tricks can create the fun.

Last night, a previously vanished 471 was selected by EPC for the Midnight Save & Share.  So now that 471 is on the Tasks list of all the users with permissions (except, of course, the creator), but if anyone clicks on that task, they get:

And that task vanishes from their Tasks list.  But don't worry, the task reappears the next time they go back to the Tasks list.  So I guess from now until the end of EPC, that task will be sitting there.

It's like an online fidget: I can go to my Tasks list and click on the task for that Vanished-then-Midnight-Save&Shared 471 and get a pink error dialog box, watch the task vanish from my list, then refresh the page and see the task reappear.

It would just be another amusing EPC quirk, except that it also appears on the Tasks list of my clients.  Which means a year from now, some infrequent EPC user in the district is going to call me in a panic about how they have a "Create Form 471" task but when they click it they get an error message and are they going to lose funding and if you're the E-Rate expert why can't you fix this error and I think you should keep calling USAC until they fix it otherwise what are we paying you for.