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Saturday, February 24, 2007

RALs fixed, mostly

A new batch of RALs appeared today, dated February 20 and 21, and they fix the most confusing of the problems I described earlier.

As promised, the problem with one-time amounts from 23f also appearing in 23g has been fixed.

However, it appears that no one noticed until too late that the phrase "Calculated - Not Input" appeared next to line 23f, where it didn't belong, and didn't appear next to line 23h, where it does belong. The error is mentioned at the bottom of the latest news brief. I don't know if that's going to help anyone, but I would hope that anyone who had an error in item 23f would know that it isn't calculated, or at least call.

Let's see if the next batch is all good.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stop the madness!

Yesterday, yet another appeal was filed by an applicant that lost funding due to the bogus "two-signature/two-date" (2s/2d) rule. I've written before about the rule that will not die. This appeal says that as of January 16, 2007, 2s/2d is alive and well.

The FCC needs to put an end to this. We need the FCC to say exactly what constitutes a contract for E-Rate purposes (let's hope they just defer to state law), and in addition to explicitly state that a contract does not require two dates to be a valid contract.

Rep. Markey, you are no Joe Barton

Did you read the speech from Ed Markey last week?

What a difference a year makes. Last year the congressional Energy and Commerce Committee overseeing the E-Rate was run by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). This year, Ed Markey (D-MA) heads the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee overseeing the E-Rate. Rep. Barton said openly that he wanted to kill the E-Rate, and failing that, to get the funding into the Treasury and bleed the E-Rate dry. Rep. Markey seems to be claiming credit for creating the E-Rate. (Now that Al Gore has left public office, perhaps Rep. Markey could persuade Republicans to start calling E-Rate "the Markey Tax.")

Sounds like the E-Rate is secure for the foreseeable future.

Monday, February 19, 2007

RAL difficulties

I read that the "first batch" of RALs is being reissued because of problems with Item 23, but I'm still seeing errors in RALs issued as late as February 13. I guess that's still the first batch?

I took a look at several of the RALs I have received, and I see three errors consistently:
  1. In the corrections column for 23f on all the RALs I've received, it says, "Calculated - Not Input," which is wrong.
  2. It should say "Calculated - Not Input" next to item 23h, but does not.
  3. On the RALS where I have a number in item 23f, the same amount appears in 23g, when 23g should show $0. I don't think I have any applications where I actually put an amount in 23g, so I don't know what happens in that case.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jailhouse E-Rate

Another case of E-Rate fraud has been successfully prosecuted by the Department of Justice. The ISP owner, who stole about $100k by submitting false invoices, now faces a fine of $250k and up to 140 years in prison.

Oh, and he'll be debarred from the E-Rate program for 3 years. But if he can run his ISP from prison, he can spend the rest of his sentence billing the E-Rate program.

I don't want to be harsh, but doesn't it seem like the debarment ought to be at least as long as the jail sentence?

Monday, February 12, 2007

RALly ho!

The SLD looks to be firing out Receipt Acknowledgement Letters (RALs) quickly this year. So far it looks like about a 4-day turnaround from certification of the 471 to issuing of the RAL. I haven't checked, but I seem to remember a slower turnaround in the past.

This year brings us a new, improved RAL. So of course I'm going to give my thoughts on it. In general, they're a real improvement.

The Good:
  • Pink envelopes
  • Clearer prose
  • Plenty of space to scrawl in corrections

The Bad:
  • Man, that's a lot of paper; each FRN gets its own page, which means over 100,000 sheets of paper. I think 2 FRNs could fit on a page, which would save 100 reams of paper.
  • No online RAL.

The Ugly:
  • Still with the monospaced fonts! The letters should be in Times, not Courier, and should use larger font sizes for emphasis.
  • The envelopes were a little closer to salmon than the medium pink pages of the letter, so I couldn't get the letters out of the envelope fast enough. (I guess I learned more than I thought from watching "The Devil Wears Prada" last week.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Whoa, Nelly!

During our routing Application Status check (to triple-check that all our apps had been certified), we discovered that a few of our apps were already in Initial Review, including a couple that had been filed yesterday!

I guess with no Katrina, Bishop Perry, etc., etc., PIA is rarin' to go. That's excellent news. Maybe we'll get back to the days when 80% of apps were processed before the start of the funding year.

Procrastinators rejoice!

Well, the SLD has extended the window by one day, so we have until 11:59 tomorrow to file. I didn't think the site crashes were that severe, but we're dealing with a kinder, gentler E-Rate now.

How badly do people procrastinate? Well, now that the word is out that we have until tomorrow, the site is no longer slow. I'm thinking everyone decided to file tomorrow.

Back from the dead

Well, that didn't last too long. And now the site seems to be peppier than before.

California E-Raters wake early

I was counting on having until 11:00 this morning before the SLD Web site bogged down again, but here it is 10:00 a.m., and it looks like the site has gone belly-up. What time do you people in those western time zones get to work, anyway?

Now when I click on "Apply Online" from the SLD main page, I get an HTTP 500 error, which is the SLD server saying "UNCLE"! The Data Retrieval Tool is also offline.

If this keeps up, there will be much wailing from procrastinators. But I guess if it keeps up for the rest of the day, procrastinators will be rewarded with a blanket extension to file.

Maybe I'll get a cup of tea, put my feet up and browse old News Briefs.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

She'll not take much more o' this, Capt'n!

If only Scotty could get to work on the SLD Web site. Last year, I had no problems posting 471s at any time right up to the deadline. This year, everything is quite sluggish, and today I'm even hitting some timeouts. I noticed some slowdown on Friday, but today it's been slow enough that I've had some timeouts. Woe to the last-minute filers showing up tomorrow.

I'm also getting several crashes a day. Part of that is that I'm not being so careful. Last year I would only run one Internet Explorer window, and I surfed very gingerly. This year I'm confident that a crash will only lose me one screen of information, so I'm doing lots of other things while I wait for pages to load.

And it looks to me, just from looking at the numbers assigned to my apps that hundreds of applications are being filed every hour, so it's not surprising to find things sluggish.

Conspiracy theory: one time I heard Mel Blackwell talking about getting people to file a little earlier, rather than wait for the end of the window. Perhaps this year's slowdown will encourage people to file earlier. Perhaps by not having a ton of computer horsepower laying around idle waiting for the last week of the window, the SLD has stopped rewarding the procrastinators. But I don't buy that. First, Mel is all about customer service, and second, if there are widespread slowdowns and crashes, it's going to create an unpleasant mess, which SLD will have to clean up, without getting any more funding to do so.