Search This Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Creaky Adobe

Today I'm setting up my new laptop (the kids, who get the old one, are the most excited about it). It amazes me that I have to dig up a copy of Adobe Reader 5 in order to make USAC's online forms appear correctly.

When will those forms be updated? Even better, chuck the proprietary format, and just use Web forms, like the Form 470.

Adobe Reader is on version 7, and I think when they get version 8, then v5 will no longer be available for download. I haven't read anything on when to expect v8, but the last two versions came out 22 months apart; it's been 20 months since version 7 was released.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ruthless Red Light

One of my clients has Web hosting supplied by TeacherWeb, and the SLD has reversed itself and decided that this particular type of Web hosting is not eligible for funding. A Commitment Adjustment was made for 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, taking away all funding. I appealed that decision to the SLD and the FCC (since two funding years were involved, there were two appealable actions, so I appealed one action to each of them).

But appeal or no appeal, you still have to pay the money. So now the district has to return the funding and wait until the appeal is approved, and then get it back. That wasn't a big deal last year, when the FCC dealt Scroogishly with appeals, but now that the FCC is acting like it's had a visit from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, it seems more fair to have the payment requirement suspended until appeals are resolved.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The wooden stake?

Four more appeal decisions today: granted, granted, granted, granted. The synopsis:
School Administrative District 67: SLD asked for the tech plan for the "wrong" year.
Gayville-Volin: A single printed date with two signatures is OK.
Douglas-Omaha: Tech Director quit, so no one did the 486: forgiven.
Zapata County: Tech Facilitator was in Iraq, couldn't respond to PIA: that's OK.

If I worked for USAC, I'd be steamed about paragraph 7 of Zapata, which starts: "Furthermore, it appears that Zapata County may have provided the information in question when it filed its appeal with USAC. While we do not make a finding here as to whether Zapata County has provided all requested relevant Item 21 Attachments, we find that USAC should review the information in its possession to ensure that it actually requires additional information from Zapata County to process its application." If USAC had enough info, the FCC should say so; if not, why ding USAC? I'll bet USAC would have loved to have the FCC say: "The [whatever] supplied by Zapata County was sufficient to demonstrate [whatever]," instead of "may have" and "we do not make a finding."

But the decision that could be interesting is Gayville. When the Richmond County order came out, I declared the death of the "two-signature/two-date" rule; the FCC said a contract with one date is OK. But the 2s/2d rule would not die; USAC took the position that the decision only applied to that one contract.

Could Gayville be the wooden stake in the heart of 2s/2d? The FCC has said once again that a contract with a single printed date and two signatures is a valid contract, and cited Richmond County as precedent. Will it be enough for USAC? I wish the FCC would come out with the explicit statement: "Two handwritten signatures are not required." Or publish an erratum to the Fifth Report and Order, striking the words "and dated" from the phrase "signed and dated by both parties," which gave birth to 2s/2d.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The FCC denied an appeal!

Two FCC decisions were released yesterday: Providence ( and Academia Discipulos (, which covers 30 appeals.

No surprise, in both cases the FCC sided with the applicants and remanded the funding requests. But wait! One of the 30 appellants in the Academia Discipulos decision was denied! This hasn't happened for months.

The Providence decision doesn't look interesting to me: a vendor put "network monitoring" and monthly reporting in the preamble to its bid, but not in the later section on specific services to be provided.

This stuck out, though: both vendors in the Providence case "maintain that network monitoring and configuration management are not part of their basic maintenance contracts." So don't hire them. Monitoring should be part of any maintenance contract, except under the bizarre rules of the E-Rate. I routinely have to scrub it out of contracts, because every vendor I can think of includes it as part of their standard service. It sounds like Providence and their vendors scrubbed it out, too.

Academia Discipulos deals with competitive bidding violations from Funding Year 2003 and earlier. Apparently USAC applied the bidding requirements from the Ysleta Order, and the FCC said that the standard in the Tennessee Order should be used, since the cases took place before the Ysleta order took effect.

That's a little funky to me. The Ysleta Order denied applications because it said they did not meet competitive bidding requirements. Nowhere in that order does the FCC says it changed the requirements (the ordering clauses at the end make no changes to the regulations). So it seems to me that the requirements in the Ysleta Order have always been the requirements, and that the Ysleta Order merely applied the existing requirements to particular cases (and in doing so, clarified the requirements a bit). In fact, paragraph 72 starts: "We recognize that in certain instances, our rules and past decisions did not expressly address the circumstances presented here. That, however, does not preclude a finding that there has been a violation of our competitive bidding rules." And I think that's been USAC's take, too. Now the FCC is saying that the requirements changed in 2004.

Here's another way to look at it. Ysleta denied applicants in Funding Year 2002, because they violated program rules. The Academia Discipulos decision says that the Yselta standard does not apply to any applications before FY 2004. Huh? That would mean that of all the applications filed before FY 2004, the Ysleta Order applies only to those applications named in that order. I'm not a lawyer, but if I were, I think I'd be contacting IBM (which I think was the vendor in all the cases in the Ysleta Order).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Undetectable deluge

Now I'm steamed.

I just got a batch of emails from PIA with the same purpose: getting written confirmation from me that there are no clerical or ministerial errors in my 471s. The emails all state that PIA couldn't detect any errors, but they want me to confirm it.

My first gripe: The email states: "It is your responsibility to review your Form 471 application and provide corrections to us. " Wrong. The Bishop Perry order states: "USAC shall inform applicants promptly in writing of any and all ministerial or clerical errors that are detected in their applications, along with a clear and specific explanation of how the applicant can remedy those errors."

My second gripe: Applications are going to be held up until I respond.

I just don't see the purpose of holding up applications. If PIA hasn't found any clerical or ministerial errors, then the applications are going to be funded, right? Why do I have to confirm again that there are no errors? My fear is that if an error is detected later, the SLD will try to say, "Sorry, the 15 days have expired." But that's not what the FCC said.

Disclaimer: As I've said ever since the FCC's Grinch-like transformation, I wouldn't want to be the SLD. Perhaps there is some other reason that the SLD needs me to reconfirm that I can't see any errors in my applications.

Undetectable errors

I took a couple of days off last week, so I'm just now reading the latest PIA requests. Since Aug. 11, there is a new section in the boilerplate. It says: "The following items on your Form 471 may contain errors, but we were unable to detect them during our review process:" and then lists all the areas on the Form 471 that might result in denial, and finishes with: "If you detect any errors in these items, you can make corrections during the next 15 days."

When I read the FCC's instructions in the Bishop Perry Order, I wondered: "How is USAC going to do that?" I guess this is the answer. I'm worried that USAC thinks that by listing all the important areas in the application, it is off the hook to later let applicants know if they discover a problem. I think that's wrong.

The spirit of Bishop Perry, it seems to me, is this: USAC shouldn't deny applications without telling the applicant that they are about to deny the application, then giving the applicant 15 days to fix whatever problem there is. I've told anyone who would listen that USAC should operate that way to reduce appeals and delays. Just tell people flat out: "On [date] we intend to deny your application for the following reason: .... If you don't want to be denied, please do the following: ...."

For the serious E-Rate wonks, there are some tea leaves here. Block 2 is left off the list of places to look for undetectable errors, which is the closest I've heard USAC come to acknowledging that the numbers in Block 2 are of no importance in getting an application approved.

On the other hand, "Block 6 – Amount budgeted for ineligible services" is on the list. When that onerous and meaningless* requirement was added to Block 6, I asked point blank at the "Train-the-Trainer" if any applications were going to be denied based on the number entered, and the answer was no. I guess now maybe the answer is yes.

*Tirade alert! Yes, the Item 25 number is meaningless because there is no way to calculate it accurately:
  1. The instructions are vague. "The resources that are necessary for you to support and improve education and library services and to make effective use of the eligible services"? What does that mean? Does "Professional Development" include in-service days on subjects like the district's new IEP system, which is not itself eligible, but which runs over the Internet? Does a district include the cost of the staff salaries for that day?
  2. How do I know what's "necessary"? You'd be crazy to run a network without anti-spam and anti-virus, but the FCC keeps them off the Eligible Services List, so are they "necessary"?
  3. Districts don't track expenses according to their E-Ratability. Who knows how much of the electricians' time was spent installing and maintaining circuits that were required "to make effective use of the eligible services"? (You could drive yourself crazy: should you count the cost of removing asbestos in order to punch through the wall so that you can install an electric circuit to run air conditioning in computer labs to keep ineligible desktops from frying, because those ineligible desktops are necessary to access the Internet?)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time for appeals shortcut?

I recently had a case for appeal. I think the SLD made an error (though I doubt the SLD will agree), so I sent an appeal to USAC first, figuring there's always a chance. But I'll tell you, the new mood at the FCC almost made me skip USAC and go right to the FCC. Nine months ago, I felt like appeals generally had a slim chance with USAC, and no chance with the FCC. Now I think the chances with the SLD are still slim, but the FCC seems to be waiving rules for everyone.

If the FCC continues to be so lenient, I foresee applicants foregoing the 3-month wait for a USAC appeal decision and skipping right to the FCC. I can foresee myself doing it if current trends keep up.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ho hum

Two more FCC appeal decisions were released yesterday: Utica, granting a waiver for a 471 filed too late; and Hickory II (since this is Hickory's second appeal decision this year), granting an appeal for non-response to a Selective Review request.

Nine months ago, I would have been all atwitter; the FCC almost never waived deadlines, no matter what the excuse. My reaction today: "Ho hum." It really feels like any denial that doesn't involve waste, fraud or abuse is going to be remanded.