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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ancient and mysterious remand

Maybe I should get some more caffeine and reread the FCC's latest decision, because I don't get it at all.

It's about an application from 2000 from the VA DOE to lease satellite time. It seems USAC determined that the service provider was not a Common Carrier, and that leased satellite time was not a telecommunications service, so the funding request was denied. The Wireline Competition Bureau upheld the decision, and the VA DOE appealed in May 2002.

Five short years later, the Commission is remanding the case to USAC, requiring that USAC investigate:
1) Whether the service provider was a Common Carrier; and
2) Whether the service, which provided distance learning (eligible) over leased satellite time (ineligible), was eligible.

The first request is confusing me. My understanding has always been that the FCC is responsible for designating which companies are common carriers. Is USAC really responsible for deciding which companies are common carriers? I don't know if I'm comfortable with a subsidiary of a telecommunications trade association deciding who is a common carrier. I don't mean to impugn the good folks at USAC, but it seems to me it creates the perception of a conflict of interest.

The second request also has me confused. The ESL from 2000 says that Distance Learning is eligible if provided as a Telecommunications Service, and this distance learning was provided through leased satellite time, which the FCC had already said was not a telecom service. The FCC seems to be saying that if an eligible service rides on top of an ineligible one, the service might be eligible.

Alas, poor USAC. To top it off, since we're talking about an FRN from FY2000, there may be no records; applicants and service providers are only required to keep records for five years.

One positive note from the order: the FCC is saying that distance learning is eligible because it's on the Eligible Services List for that year. That's very nice: back in those days, ESLs were just guidelines created by USAC, and did not have FCC approval, so it's nice to see that the FCC is choosing to treat old ESLs like they were authoritative.

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