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Saturday, May 29, 2010

FCC for breakfast

The E-rate is seeping further into my life. I'm making pancakes for the kids this morning, listening to "On the Media" on NPR, which is usually snarky commentary on journalistic ethics or the sorry state of print journalism, and this piece about the FCC's new direction for Internet regulation comes on. Even my Saturday morning is not safe from E-rate (I'm feeling anarthrous today).

And a colleague sent me the agenda for the FCC's next meeting, which is going to be all about whether Internet access is going to become a "telecommunications service" or remain an "information service." The three directions they are considering:
  1. Leave it an information service.
  2. Make it a telecommunications service.
  3. Make it a telecommunications service, but then waive most of the regulations that apply to telecommunications service.

I know which direction I'm betting on. The FCC has not been very consistent on most things, but they are generally consistent on this: if there is a simple solution and a complex one, they'll take the complex one.

As far as I can see, the two big questions for E-rate:

  1. Will the Internet Access category on the Eligible Services List vanish?
  2. Will Internet service providers be forced to pay into the Universal Service Fund?

I'm guessing that IA will vanish. Apparently digital transmission can be offered under IA, and since 2006 so can voice (VoIP), so the distinction is becoming meaningless.

My crystal ball says that all broadband providers will have to start paying into the fund.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


OK, now this appeal gets my goat. Some little library is getting a little funding for their phone line, and USAC drops an audit on their heads, and then COMADs them for not being able to document the number of bids received.

First of all, who says the district has to create documentation of the number of bids? If the FCC wants to have that information, then it should be on the Form 471. I know, it would make the form more complex, but it wouldn't make the application process more complicated. It just makes it obvious how complicated the process is.

Second, the recovery amount is $486. How did an applicant this small get audited in the first place? And how about we have a bid threshold like government purchasing law at every other level of government everywhere? Making a purchase under $1,000? No bid necessary. At least the FCC seems to be moving in that direction with the NPRM. And what is the de minimis level on COMADs? Because I guarantee that this COMAD has already cost more than $500, and now that it's been appealed to the FCC, the cost is going into the thousands.

What a waste of everyone's time.

FCC jetty

Just when it seemed the FCC would waive anything as long as there was no waste, fraud or abuse, they've found a deadline it won't waive without a compelling reason: the deadline for filing an appeal. Yesterday they denied 104 appeals that were filed late.

That seems like a reversal of precedent to me, but I'm too lazy to go back and try to find late appeals that were granted in the past.

On the one side, it seems odd to say that you can file a Form 471 late for no good reason, but you can't file an appeal late.

But I think the FCC may have been forced into this, because the appeals thing was getting out of hand. Some of the appeals that they denied were filed years after the appeals deadline, because applicants saw the about-face that the FCC made with Bishop Perry, and realized that under the new kinder/gentler FCC, they could win an appeal. And I have seen pitches from consulting companies offering to remedy past mistakes by appealing to the FCC well after the fact.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PIA peeve

OK, I just can't hold this one in any more:

When you do an online Item 21 Attachment, on the Line Item Detail screen, there is a link that brings in the dollar amounts from the 471. That's really handy, but in past years you always had to remember to click that link first, because it erased everything else. This year there is a new "feature": you can't click that link until you've selected the service type from the drop-down. But of course when you click the link, it erases the service type you just had to select, and you have to select it again.

How did they not catch that during testing?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Christmas in May

I just got the new NPRM from the FCC, and have only had a chance to skim a few parts of it so far. My initial reaction: "Holy crap!"

This is real reform.

A few standouts so far:
"We propose to...eliminate E-Rate technology plan requirements for priority one applicants...."

"we propose to eliminate the requirement that applicants for priority one services file an FCC Form 470...."

"One option would be to allocate funding for internal connections based on a per student cap...."

"Eliminate the 2-in-5 rule...the 2-in-5 rule has not served its intended purposes."

I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

There are proposals I'm not so hot on (the suggested wording of the codification of competitive bidding is rather Grinchy), proposals I'll have to think about (making all Basic Maintenance ineligible; Scroogey?), and proposals that are mostly great, but need some tweaking (the equipment disposal rules). But those are like getting socks from Aunt Martha: disappointing, but they don't spoil the holiday.

Time to think about FY2011. Oy.

With the USAC announcement of next fall's training sessions, it's kind of like FY2011 has started. And I'm still doing service substitutions for FY2008, not to mention the last stages of audits from FY2005.

I'm such an E-rate geek that I kind of like the trainings. I don't learn much about the application process, but Mel always has a few good tidbits, I get to see familiar faces, and there's always at least one newbie who gets apoplectic about one of the more heinous rules.

Last year the theme was "Helping You Succeed." Anyone care to suggest a theme for this year's training? Hmmm....

Helping You Medicate
Hoping You Succeed
Success is Overrated, Anyway
Define "Succeed"
I Did Not Succeed With That Woman (That would have been funnier eight years ago. So pretend you're in an audit and try to remember what you were thinking way back then.)

Some sessions I'd like to see:
Cost-Effectiveness Reviews: How much is too much?
The 2-in-5 Rule: Creates so many headaches, Bayer gives us a kickback
The 30% Rule: We don't care if the FCC gutted it, we'll still get you somehow
PIA Review: Like going to a dentist who doesn't believe novacaine is necessary
New Audit Procedures: How to Use a Tanto

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Surf's up!

It's official: the first wave of Funding Commitment Decision Letters will come out May 26th. That's later than in the recent past, but the wave will also be larger.

USAC says 40% of all the applications received will be in the first wave. Pretty impressive. They'll be approving over $400 million, which is a record.

Wait a minute: $400 million is what, maybe 15% of the total funding requested? So Solix is definitely looking at the small applications first.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Weekend off

Two months with nary a blog post, and now two in one day.

USAC has announced that the Apply Online section of the Web site will be down for most of the weekend. [Update: upon closer reading, I've noticed it's only down for 4 hours.] It's nice to get some warning, though would it be too much to ask to get, say, 48 hours' notice?

USAC is billing this as "scheduled maintenance," but I have to wonder if it isn't in response to the failures we've been seeing all over the site: Form 470 searches, online BEAR submissions, data retrieval tool. Let's hope this outage ends all that.

Now it begins

The approvals for 2010-2011 can begin.

The FCC has approved the PIA application review procedures. Now PIA can begin issuing funding commitments; I'm betting on May 25th. And word on the street is that the first wave of commitments will be a tsunami.

I get a chuckle out of the public announcement of this approval, since the FCC considers the actual review procedures to be secret. I guess I'm done ranting about it, though.