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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The fog of eligibility

Here's the ugly side of eligible services. For the first time I can remember, the FCC has denied an appeal where the applicant thought that a piece of software was eligible, honestly told PIA exactly what they were requesting, got approved, then were denied after invoicing USAC. As the appeal asks, "How can it be deemed ineligible...1 year after it was initially funded?"

This is a great example of a problem that needs to be fixed. The applicant believed that a software product qualified as a multi-point conferencing unit (MCU) for videoconferencing, which was eligible. The service provider also believed it was eligible. So did the PIA reviewer, so the application was approved. So the software was installed, and the service provider billed USAC. But lately, USAC has been using the invoicing process as another opportunity to assess eligibility, and USAC decided that the software was ineligible, reduced the funding commitment, and refused to pay the invoice.

I'm not saying the software in question is eligible, because I don't have all the info. It may be a "software MCU" with a few extra features (which might be considered "ancillary use"), or it might be management software that expands the capability of an MCU, but isn't an MCU itself.

Eligible or ineligible isn't the point. The point is that the applicant and service provider apparently thought the product was eligible, and the PIA reviewer agreed. It just seems unfair that USAC can come back after the project is done and change their decision on eligibility.

"Approval" should mean something. PIA is scary enough for applicants, but if the result of PIA is only a conditional approval contingent on later approval by other reviewers, applicants can never rest easy.

I have heard the advice, "don't push the envelope on eligibility and you won't run into trouble." OK, but I have to say that even for me (and I consider myself an eligibility expert), there is no envelope, only a dark plain with swirling patches of fog. You can tell when you're deep in the fog, but you can't tell where the edge of the fog is. Even if you pick a clear spot and stand there, the fog may swirl over you.

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