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Friday, November 30, 2007

No signature/no date

USAC is now requiring only one signature and one date for contracts, if that is allowed under state law. When introducing the new rule in this year's training, John Noran started by saying that if state law allows a contract with no signatures, you still have to have a document with a signature and date. I remember thinking, "Is someone really going to try to claim a contract with no dates?"

The answer is yes. There's an appeal at the FCC right now claiming an oral contract. It's an interesting assertion: if state law says I have a contract, who is USAC or the FCC to say I don't?

The FCC has certainly broadened the scope of documents that are allowed to serve as contracts, but I find it hard to believe that they will allow a contract that leaves no auditable trail.

But let's take a step back. Why are contracts required before filing the 471? In general, the terms of the contract are significantly altered by the time the equipment is actually installed, since much of the equipment gets outmoded over the 18 months or so between contract and installation. Why not just accept a quote from a vendor? The 471 itself is enough of a paper trail of which vendor was selected.

If the funding were paid at the time of the signature of the contract, then certainly one would be required. But the actual payments aren't made until services are delivered.

I suppose you could say that forcing applicants to sign contracts discourages applicants from filing for funding willy-nilly, but I haven't seen any cases of that. The allocation of Priority Two funding is badly broken, but not because the contracting requirements aren't stringent enough. The contracting requirements don't restrain irresponsible applicants.

What's the downside of forcing applicants to have a signed contract? Well, for starters, it's illegal for most applicants to sign a contract six months before the start of the fiscal year in which the equipment will ostensibly be delivered (and in most cases 18 months before the start of the fiscal year in which the equipment will actually be installed).

The time has come for the FCC to move from "one-signature/one-date" to "no contract."

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