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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Gentlemen, start your engines!

The Eligible Services List (ESL) for the 2008-2009 funding year has been released. I'll have comments on the list I'm sure, but probably not until after BEAR season ends. There don't seem to be any big surprises.

The big news with the actual release of the ESL is not eligibility, but timing. For the second straight year, the list was released on Oct. 19th. That's too late. When the FCC started the current ESL process (public comment and FCC approval of the list), they set a rule that the list must come out 60 days before the opening of the window. They have never even come close. This year, we got 19 days.

The 60-day waiting period is a good idea. A change in the ESL can make a change in an applicant's purchasing plans. That change may require an amendment to the technology plan, which has to done before filing the Form 470, which should be done 28 days before the opening of the window. With only 19 days, you can't even get a 471 filed at the start of the window unless you filed a 470 before knowing what would be eligible.

True, there is plenty of time within the filing window to file the 470 and then the 471, but that's not behavior that the FCC should be encouraging. Mel Blackwell has said that he'd like to shorten the filing window, since we all file in the last 2 weeks of the window, anyway. In order to make that change, applicants have to get used to filing the 470 before the window opens. The FCC is making that very difficult.

In the notice announcing the release of the ESL, the FCC authorized USAC to open the window on November 7th. Why? Didn't Mel Blackwell stand up and say that the window would start in mid-November and end in early February? Why open the window so early? I think there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth if the window closes before, say, February 8th. That would give us a 93-day window. Mel said he wants to shorten the window, and we get this.

The FCC should have opened the window on November 26th. A shortened window would be best achieved in increments: cut it to 74 days this year, then 60 days next year, and so on. But part of the key is actually having the ESL come out 60 days before the window opens. Gradually, applicants will get used to filing the 470 before the opening of the window.

Plus, of course, the FCC would be modeling good behavior by meeting deadlines, instead of waiving its own rules every single year.

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