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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Appeal with a twist

I came across an appeal that I liked and disliked today.

First, the thing I liked: the applicant used a telecom broker called "Sir Schmooze A Lot." I can't find the company on the Web, but if it's in an appeal to the FCC, you've got to believe it's a real company.

I disliked the slam against consultants. The appellant complained that if the FCC didn't make the rules clearer, all applicants would be forced to use consultants. I agree it's a shame that a small school which was just trying to get telecommunications and Internet funding, totalling less than $15,000, got busted by a Selective Review, because they did not understand PIA's unusually worded requests, and couldn't guess what the right response was. They didn't break any rules, and they certainly weren't trying to cheat anyone. The fact that they could not prove their innocence does not prove they did anything wrong, but in the upside down world of the E-Rate, you're guilty until proven innocent.

But I didn't like the attitude that consultants are "siphoning off" money from the program. If an applicant doesn't want to hire a consultant, that's fine. That means that the applicants will have to learn the E-Rate rules and follow them. Many applicants have realized that it is cost-effective to hire a consultant. I don't like having to pay all that money to my accountant, but when I look at the effort it would take me to do my own taxes, I realize it's worth paying someone else to do it.

The attitude is more troubling because of the underlying reason that this particular applicant is upset at having to pay for a consultant: for years they got free E-Rate consulting from a service provider. Once that rule violation was discovered, they got a Selective Review, and that's what tripped them up. So if they'd been managing the E-Rate for themselves all along, questions about competitive bidding would not have come up.

I feel bad for all the applicants who got taken in by service providers who acted as consultants. I think most of them didn't know they were breaking a rule. But how ofen does it need to be said? "If a deal sounds to good to be true, it is."

It's hard for me to feel sympathy for an applicant who for years got free E-Rate services by violating the rules, and now complains that honest consultants demand their payment above board.

So while I agree that a small applicant requesting telecom and Internet should not face such a complicated application process and so much scrutiny, don't say consultants are siphoning off money from the program. Are accountants siphoning off tax money?

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