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Friday, March 31, 2006

Latest SLD News Brief

The latest News Brief from the SLD seemed more interesting than usual.

The Deadline Tool is another almost-but-not-quite-useful tool. If you can figure out how to use the calculators, chances are you can figure out the deadlines on your own. Alas, the layout doesn't leave enough room for explanations.

On to the useful info. First, they gave a little information on the new "Cost-Effectiveness Review" process. Of course, they don't actually reveal how they determine cost-effectiveness, but there are hints. One sentence caught my eye: "Let’s preview the information USAC may request from an applicant whose Basic Maintenance funding request is being reviewed for cost effectiveness." Does this mean that only maintenance FRNs are subject to Cost Effectiveness Reviews?

Second, they gave a listing of FCC orders. It's not a very good list, since it has orders from all the Universal Service programs, but not orders made in response to appeals, some of which are very important. The layout is nice, though, and a little familiar.... Oh, yeah, it's almost exactly the same as the layout on On-Tech's much more useful list of FCC orders. Coincidence, I'm sure.

Audit results

USAC has submitted their Semi-Annual Audit Recovery Report. I found two things interesting.

First, the report describes the collections process, which is informative for anyone facing a COMAD.

Of more interest, the last page of the report has a summary of the audit results. I did a little spreadsheet of my own, with percentages in it. The most interesting statistic: of all the audits, only 3.4% of funding was found to be improperly disbursed. These are audits, most of which are triggered by suspicious activities, so 3.4% seems mighty low. And if you take the recoverables as a percentage of total funding, it drops to something like 0.5%.

Kind of puts some perspective on the comments about a "troubled" program "riddled with waste, fraud and abuse."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My first PIA request for 2006-2007!

I got a request for info from PIA, and it took me a minute to realize that it's for a 2006-2007 application. How exciting!

The client in question is one of my smallest, with a very simple application. Coincidence? Actually, I would think so: NECA Services*, which actually employs the PIA reviewers, used to be (and probably still is) evaluated on both the number and dollar amounts of FRNs processed. So while I can see them wanting to pick simple apps, I would also expect them to pick large ones.

*As I understand it, NECA, the telephone companies' lobby, created the non-profit subsidiary USAC to administer the Universal Service Fund, and USAC then contracts out most of the work to NECA Services, a for-profit subsidiary of NECA. You can see it on pages 24-26 of the USAC Annual Report: of the roughly $58 million that USAC receives annually, it pays about $36 million to NECA services.

News from DC

Yesterday I went to the E-Rate panel at the CoSN conference. There were four panelists. I didn't get anything out of the presentations by the Congressional or FCC staffers, and the panelist from a school district was, by her own admission, preaching to the choir about how great E-Rate is. But Mel Blackwell, the head of SLD, said several really interesting things. (Well, really interesting for E-Rate geeks, anyway.)

1) Fewer than 1500 471s for 2005-2006 remain unprocessed.

2) Over 2,000 471s for 2006-2007 have already been processed.

3) USAC has requested approval from the FCC to fund Priority Two applications for applicants with discounts of 85% and higher, and approval to deny all applicants at 76% or below. Mel seemed to think that the FCC would respond soon. Once that comes through, we should see a large wave of Priority Two decisions.

4) He hopes to have the BEAR and SPAC forms online for 06-07.

5) The average time for appeal decisions by USAC is down to 60 days, and Mel is committed to brining it lower.

6) I saved the best for last: the FCC has already approved the application processing procedures for 2006-2007. Given that there are 2,000 apps already processed, a wave in the month of March seems possible. So although the delayed Katrina deadline means Priority Two funding is hung up until October or so, at least we'll get Priority One approvals in a timely matter.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Don't hold your breath for Priority Two - PY 2006

The FCC has decided to extend the application windowfor 2006-2007 for Katrina-affected schools and libraries to September 30, 2006. That's nice for those schools, but for everyone else, it's terrible news.

Since the SLD won't have a complete picture of E-Rate demand until October, there's very little chance of any funding of Priority Two until November or so.

Once again, schools trying to get E-Rate funding for maintenance are going to be in limbo for at least half the year.