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Monday, May 21, 2007

Another friendly waive

Today the FCC remanded another 27 cases. While that's nice for the 27 applicants involved, I skimmed through to paragraph 11, where the FCC directed USAC to change the way they talk to applicants. In most of the "Global Orders," that's been the pattern, the FCC remands a bunch of cases, waives any rules necessary, and orders USAC to communicate more openly with applicants. While we'd all like to see more rule clarifications and maybe even some reforms, the directives to USAC have been good.

Take this case: all 27 applicants got burned when they mistaken used a SPIN that belonged to a company that did not have Eligible Telecom Provider (ETP) for a Telecom Services FRN. That's a no-no: all telecom FRNs must have an ETP (aka "common carrier") for the service provider.

So what does USAC do if you have a non-ETP for a telecom FRN? Well, your FRN goes into the black box of PIA, and in past years, just came out rejected. This year, thanks to the Bishop Perry Order, you get an email asking you to confirm that the SPIN is OK. No explanation of why you need to confirm the SPIN, no warning that the FRN will be denied if you do confirm the SPIN, just a request to confirm the SPIN.

[Here's a tip that has for years been part of every presentation I give on the application process: if PIA asks you to repeat information you've already provided, it means you're about to lose funding.]

But in paragraph 11 of this decision, the FCC says: "when an applicant is seeking telecommunications service but the SPIN used is linked to a provider that does not provide telecommunications on a common carrier basis, USAC should explain the problem to the applicant and allow the applicant 15 days to cure its application."

So now PIA has to explain that you're about to lose funding and why, and give you an opportunity to fix it.

It's like a peephole into the black box, so sometimes you can see one of the things that is happening to your application. If we can get enough peepholes, maybe applicants will be able to get a better understanding of how applications are reviewed.

Also, there will be fewer appeals: this year, I got an email asking me to confirm the SPIN, so I checked and found that the service provider had made an error on one of the forms and lost its ETP status. Fortunately, the provider was able to regain ETP status in time for me to meet the PIA deadline. A normal applicant probably wouldn't have figured out the problem, been denided, appealed to USAC and been denied, then appealed to the FCC and gotten a remand and then gotten approval after the funding year was over.

There are still 700 pages of secret rules for the processing of E-Rate applications. It would be nice if the FCC could de-classify most of those pages, but at least rulings like this are effectively de-classifying pages one at a time. At this rate, in 10 years or so, the application process will be transparent enough that applicants won't be so fearful.

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