Search This Blog

Monday, November 24, 2008

Start your engines!

And the filing window has been announced:
December 2 to February 12

That gives us a 73-day window, reversing the trend in recent years, which has been towards longer and longer windows.

I have no problem with a 73-day filing window. As I said this weekend, to me the important window is between the release of the Eligible Service List and the close of the filing window. If the FCC stuck with its rule of 60 days between ESL release and filing window opening, and USAC stuck with the old tradition of the 80-day filing window, that would be 140 days. This year it's only 84 days, a new low. Now 84 days is enough for most applicants, and in most years would be enough for almost all applicants, but this year, when the FCC dangled ESL changes in front of us and then snatched them back, it would have been nice to have a longer period.

Full employment for my dentist

The latest News Brief has me grinding my teeth:
"Compliance with E-rate program requirements is not an excuse for non-compliance with state and local requirements. In general, when E-rate program requirements and state or local requirements differ, you should comply with the requirements that are more stringent to make sure you are in compliance with both."

What about when E-Rate rules require something that state law forbids? For example:
  1. You're wiring a building. It is not cost-effective to award the low-voltage (data and phone) wiring to one contractor and electrical wiring to another. (Think about it: That piece of molding coming down the wall has two channels, for electric and low-voltage. So you'd need to cost-allocate, and you'll have one contractor going into the other contractor's molding.) So if you want to choose a single contractor, E-Rate rules require that price of eligible components be the primary factor, while state law requires that you take the overall lowest bid. So there is a possibility that you'll have to forego E-Rate funding, since it would be illegal to make the choice based on the price of only eligible items.
  2. It's illegal for most applicants to sign contracts in January for services that don't start until the following fiscal year.
  3. Applicants are required to certify on the 471 that "resources have been secured" to pay their share of E-Rate costs, as well as pay for training, support, etc. State laws do not permit applicants to have a budget for the following year at the time the 471 is certified.

What are the solutions to these conflicts?

  1. The FCC should get out of the competitive bidding process and let state laws ensure competitive bidding.
  2. Don't require contracts before the 471. Just use a quote. The contract doesn't prevent waste, fraud or abuse, and forcing an early contract results in less cost-effective purchases.
  3. Stop requiring that certification.

Now I need to unclench my jaw and get some work done.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Meet the new ESL, same as the old ESL

Here's the time line:
6/30: USAC sends proposed Eligible Service List (ESL) to FCC. (Actually, that's the deadline; I know that some years, USAC has submitted the proposed ESL much earlier.
8/1: FCC posts the USAC-proposed ESL for comments.
8/1: FCC opens a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) with several proposed ESL changes.
8/14: Comment period closes for USAC-proposed ESL.
8/19: NPRM published in Federal Register.
8/21: Reply comment period closes for USAC-proposed ESL.
9/18: Comment period closes for NPRM.
10/3: Reply comment period closes for NPRM.
11/21: FCC announces that none of the suggested changes will be enacted.
11/25: FCC allows window opening.

First of all, a new record: Two working days between release of the ESL and start of the window. In the Third Report and Order, the FCC created a rule that the application window cannot open for 60 days after the final ESL is posted. The FCC has consistently waived its own rule, but this year, they’ve outdone themselves. And if you consider that USAC has not announced the release of the ESL (I learned of it from a Funds for Learning update), almost all applicants are going to learn of it on Monday morning, one day before the FCC has allowed opening of the window.

I’ve got to think that USAC saw this coming, so they’re probably ready to open the window quick, though maybe not by Tuesday; USAC can set the window opening any time after the 25th and close it whenever they want.

When will the window open, and when will it close? Well, I don’t think USAC opens the window by Wednesday, which runs them smack into Thanksgiving, which means a December 1 window opening. An 80-day window would mean February 19th. That’s later than USAC wants, and a year or two ago, Mel Blackwell said he wanted to shorten the window. So I’d almost bet on a December 1 opening, February 10 closing. That’s a 71-day window. But that would make the time from the release of the ESL to the close of the window only 81 days. So I’m hoping they won’t close until February 19th.

But what about the school district that wanted to implement streaming video this year? A video-on-demand (VoD) server at 90% off, is more cost-effective than a streaming video service. But the USAC-proposed ESL made VoD servers ineligible. So the district rewrites their tech plan not to include VoD servers. Now they’ve got to put the servers back into the tech plan, write a spec, file the 470, wait 28 days, pick a vendor, sign a contract, and file the 471. No matter when the window closes, that’s a rush job. The district is not going to get the best deal that way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

ESL Math

I suppose it's time for the annual pin-the-tail-on-the-471-deadline game.

First, the theoretical: FCC rules require 60 days between the release of the Eligible Services List (ESL) and the start of the window, and the old tradition was an 80-day application window. If the FCC released the ESL today, the application window would open January 13th and close April 3rd. As I've said before, I'm in favor of a later window closing, but they need to drastically simplify the secret rulebook if they want PIA to plow through all the applications in 3 months.

Now the reality: The Third Report and Order released December 2003 (as opposed to the first Third Report and Order, released October 1997, which created the filing window) states: "At least sixty days prior to the opening of the window for the following funding year, the Commission will then issue a public notice attaching the final eligible services list for the upcoming funding year. The Commission anticipates that this public notice will be released on or before September 15 of each year."

Here's what's actually happened:

FYESL releaseWindow open60 days?Window closeWindow days

So we should open up a little pool. Feel free to give your guesses on the following:
When will the ESL be released?
When will the window open?
When will the window close?
When will the first FCDL be issued?

Here are my guesses:
12/5/08 (cutting the 60 days to 14)
2/9/09 (giving us a 66-day window)

That creates unpleasantly tight timelines for applicants, but nothing unprecedented.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Now it's getting ugly

A spate of recent appeals to the FCC (here's one of them) really takes USAC to task for the whole Cost-Effectiveness Review (CER) process. Sounds like a case similar to one I blogged about earlier: wielding the most secretive of reviews to deny FRNs from years ago.

By now you know I hate the CER (and here's another rant).

In November 2007, the State E-Rate Coordinator's Association (SECA) said: "USAC’s cost-effectiveness procedures appear to go well beyond FCC rules and policy guidance."

In April 2008, the E-Rate Service Provider's Association (ESPA) calls it "arbitrary, discriminatory, unfair, and not competitively neutral."

In April 2008, E-Rate Central said: "USAC is making policy decisions unsupported by Commission rules. Even worse, USAC is making educational policy decisions."

This latest set of appeals go all out, even getting into the personal politics of some USAC employee involved in the case.

The CER appeals are piling up.

So when will we see some FCC action on this? Another end-of-the-fiscal-year batch of appeals have been released, and not a peep about Cost-Effectiveness Reviews. Let's hope we don't have to wait five years.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Kicking the bucket

USAC has sent its annual list of administrative procedures to the FCC. The submission is public, so you'd think this would be a juicy peek inside the gigantic secret rulebook. But it's amazing: 85 pages, and I can't find a single useful piece of information.

One fun tidbit: there is actually something called a "Mixed Bucket Review." And here I thought I'd been through every type of review possible, and even some that aren't possible (a retroactive Cost Effectiveness Review, for example). But I have never had my buckets reviewed.

The Adams Family

It was bound to happen some time. We already have an Adams County Order (so named because the Adams County School District was the first (alphabetically) appellant), released back in 2007, which finally drove a stake through the heart of the unkillable "two-signature-two-date" rule.

Now comes the FCC and releases an order clarifying the rules surrounding On-Premise Priority One Equipment. It's significant enough that the ruling will appear in future appeals. This time, Adams County Public Library is first on the list of appellants. Now what? "Adams County II"? "Eve's County"? "Adams County Reloaded"? "Quincy Adams County"? Or, since the order expands on the rules from the Tennessee Order, maybe we call it "The Tennessee Order Revisited"? "Revenge of the Tennessee Order"?

What does the new order say? It talked about the "exclusive use" test from the Tennessee Order, but the statement that will appear in future appeals is: "the mere presence of a purchase option does not indicate that an applicant has failed the standards set forth in the Tennessee Order."