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Monday, June 27, 2011

My ESL comments

The FCC has announced the comment period for the changes to the 2012 ESL (if you don't know that ESL stands for Eligible Services List, count your blessings and skip the rest of this post). The draft ESL is here.

OK, so here are the changes (in bold), and my initial reaction (not bold):
  1. Funds are allocated according to rules of Priority: Yawn
  2. Any telecommunications service is eligible, but all other services are eligible only if specifically listed: The second clause is good, but saying that "any telecommunications service" is going to cause confusion. Because for Joe Lunchbox, anything that appears on a phone bill is a "telecommunications service." Better to say "any service that meets the definition of 'telecommunications service' under 47 CFR blahblahblah."
  3. Services funded under the “Learning on the Go” program satisfy the requirement that services must be used for an “educational purpose.”: Redundant clarification is OK with me, even if it only pertains to 20 out of the thousands of applicants. But I am sad that the "Education Deployed Ubiquitously" name for the program is gone. I loved that name.
  4. Removed rationale for included Interconnected VoIP: Yawn
  5. Moved everything out of "Other Eligible Telecommunications Services" into other areas: Seems fine to me.
  6. Updated entry for dark and lit fiber: The clarification is pretty brief, given all the confusion, but it makes very clear that the E-Rate will pay for the construction of a lit fiber network, but not for the construction of a dark fiber network.
  7. Replaced and updated the description of eligible Internet Access service: Boy, the new definition sure makes Web hosting stick out like a sore thumb. It does help to clarify the "basic conduit" concept. But they really need to clarify what they mean by "billing management, introductory information content, and navigational systems."
  8. Moved "Distance Learning and Video Conferencing" eligibility info: OK, but no matter what the FCC does, some videoconferencing company is going to discover the E-Rate, skim the ESL, and come to the conclusion that their product is eligible, and stir up confusion with their advertising. It happens every year.
  9. Deleted "Internet-based" from the "E-mail Service" description: OK, but I'd like to see a clear statement on whether electronic messaging needs to reach the Internet in order to be eligible. For example, does "e-mail" include closed messaging systems that only allows students to contact teachers?
  10. Satellite Internet service can be eligible: Fine. Most new Internet access contracts I've been seeing are Internet over Ethernet, so why not have that on the list?
  11. Firewall service can only be provided by ISP, and cannot be separately priced: I'd rather have them say that firewall service is not eligible, but can sometimes be included as an Ancillary Use.
  12. Mobile hotspots only eligible if on-campus and not duplicative: Sounds OK to me.
  13. Changed "Other Eligible Internet Access Services" to "Internet-Related Services": I like the new name better.
  14. Lit or dark fiber can be requested as Internet access: I don't understand how lit fiber is not a telecommunications service, but I'm not an FCC lawyer.
  15. Changed the Web hosting description: They just made it eligible for school districts to offer a panoply of services to students and parents: file storage, blogging, webmail, messaging. And the new definition does nothing to dissuade the vendors of Web-enabled applications (like student management or grading) from trying to say that some of their service is eligible.
  16. Revised description of ineligible Web hosting services, moved it to "ineligible" section: Oh wait, here is some more clarification. I sure hope everyone else finds it, now that it's in a separate section. So they took away file storage, but providing webmail for parents is still eligible. And the rules here do make it more difficult for Web-enabled application vendors to shoehorn their products into Web hosting.
  17. Password-protected pages for staff not eligible: OK, but it says that such password protection is ineligible if they give staff access "access ineligible tools." That implies two things: 1) pages that are only available to staff are eligible if they access eligible tools, and 2) password-protected pages that give access to ineligible tools are still eligible if they are available to students or parents.
  18. Firewall components are eligible in "Data Protection" and "Servers": In my book, a firewall is not a server, but it doesn't matter.
  19. Clarified which software is not eligible: Fine.
  20. Moved info on ineligibility of antennas: OK, but I like the idea of keeping the info on ineligibility next to the info on eligibility, rather than putting them on different pages.
  21. Restrictions on remote access: Inconsequential.
  22. Smartphones and tablets not eligible: Good.
  23. BMIC can be cost-allocated, and on-site service is eligible only if cost-effective: The change is fine, but the original language is a problem: when the FCC says "on-site service," they mean "paying for service provider staff to be on the client premises full time." Whereas the rest of the world thinks that "on-site services" means service that takes place on site, like a switch breaks and you call someone to come out and fix it, which the FCC calls "off-site." So in FCCspeak, "off-site service" is generally performed on site. I think the ESL should talk about "duty station" instead of "on-site"/"off-site."
  24. BMIC reimbursed based on actual work performed: BMIC takes the crown for Most Unclear Eligibility, which is saying something, given how murky the eligibility is for Web hosting and dark fiber. The ESL is not better than the Sixth Report & Order and the subsequent clarifying orders and FAQs. It says you can only be reimbursed for actual work performed, but in fact you can get funding for CiscoBase, which is paid for whether work is done or not.
  25. "clarified the entry for the Miscellaneous category that 'Miscellaneous' services and products related to services requested in the Telecommunications category should be requested (via FCC Form 471) in the Telecommunications Services or Internet Access category, depending upon the nature of the service provider": And there is my laugh for the day. Because I'm an E-Rate expert, and I have no idea what that clarification means. OK, looking at the draft ESL, I see what they're trying to say. "Nature of the service provider" really means "whether the Service Provider files a Form 499." I know some applicants will not know what a Form 499, but let's be honest that if they don't know whether their service provider is filing that form, they can't know the right way to apply. Let's not try to make the rules appear simpler than they actually are. (Instead, make the rules simpler. Why is there still a separate Internet Access category?)
  26. Contingency fees will be reimbursed based on actual work performed: I don't understand how this will work. Does this mean that contingency fees will be approved for funding, and then applicants will have to do a service substitution to convert the contingency into an actual service? I'm thinking all my projects are going to have contingency fees from now on, so we can cover unforeseen expenses.
  27. Dark fiber doesn't need a tech plan and is not duplicative if appropriate: Seems to be saying that it is not duplicative to have multiple T-1s and dark fiber linking two sites. I'm not sure that was the intention.
  28. All special eligibility conditions for WANs in one entry: If only it were true. The rules for WANs, like the rules for everything else, are splattered across the ESL, the USAC Web site, FCC orders and USAC PowerPoint slides.
  29. Added definitions for "failover" and "enhanced multimedia interface": Repeating the definition of "failover" in the definitions section is fine. I would have gone the other way and taken the jargon out, but there are reasons to keep it in. Adding a new definition for a technology on its way out, like ATM, seems unnecessary, so I wouldn't have added "enhanced multimedia interface," but it doesn't do any harm.

To Have or Not to Have

I'm feeling a little dissonance this morning. Back in October, the FCC released the Keyport Order, which said of Keyport's 2004 application:
"the Commission’s rules in effect at the time ... required each entity to maintain, for their purchases of telecommunications and other supported services, 'the kind of procurement records that they maintain for other purchases.' [The applicant], therefore, had no obligation to produce documentation that it would not normally maintain for other purchases."

In last week's Central Islip decision, the FCC said of Central Islip's 2002 application:
"...there is no documentation, i.e., a bid evaluation sheet or bid comparison, showing how the bids were evaluated, scored, or ranked. Thus, we are unable to determine whether Central Islip selected the most cost effective service offering. The absence of this information leads us to conclude that Central Islip failed to demonstrate that its competitive bidding process complied with program rules because it could not show that it conducted a competitive bidding process."

Why the difference? I suppose it could be that the FCC is saying that Central Islip was required by state law to maintain the records, whereas Keyport was not. That might be true, but I'm not so sure. It looks to me like maybe Central Islip bought off state contract, so it wouldn't be required to maintain the records that the FCC wanted to see.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today's rabbithole? Ontario!

FY2011 Wave 1 funding approvals are still not available from the Data Retrieval Tool, but service providers have known for days, and now it's available through the Automated Search of Commitments.

Anything interesting? Let's see, it looks like the states getting big reimbursements are the ones you'd expect. OK and MS maybe sticking out above the norm, but not outrageously so. WV and GA lagging, but it's only Wave 1, so nothing to get excited about. And the only states who got skunked aren't really states: American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Ontario Canada [insert sound of record scratching]. Ontario?! What the fund? How did that get on the list? Is this a NAFTA thing?

You didn't think I'd just let that go, did you? I put my crack team on it. Our database guy points out that there is no option for Ontario on the Data Retrieval Tool, so there is no way to use the DRT to check if Ontario got any funding. Our intrepid Customer Service Rep noted that the Billed Entity Search tool has an option for ON, but if you try to search for billed entities in ON, you get a server error. Meanwhile, if you go to the "Advanced Search" in the Automated Search of Commitments, the dropdown menu for state does not include Ontario. Other search tools:
Form 470: State dropdown includes ON
Tech Plan Approver Locator: State dropdown does not include ON

I cannot find any evidence of any funding going to Ontario, but maybe that's just what they want us to think....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another irony in the fire

I got a kick out of the FCC's recent appeal decision, where they took 7 years to forgive an applicant for filing an application 8 days late. But they've outdone themselves this time.

In a recent decision, they rejected 3 requests for review because they were filed too late. OK, the first one was filed 2 years late, but the second and third were filed 59 and 58 days after the orders they were appealing.

Wait, 58 days is too late? I had to go back and look this one up. It's true. According to the order that extends the deadline to appeal from 30 days to 60 days (on an emergency interim basis due to the anthrax attacks), petitions for reconsideration still have to be filed within 30 days. Who knew?

So anyway, these applicants file 29 and 28 days late, respectively, and the FCC responds 2,724 and 3,076 days later, respectively. I can't find an adjective to describe that.

Funding year mind games

Sometimes, I think USAC is messing with me. Well, not USAC exactly. In this case it was Vangent, I think (at least I was give a Vangent e-mail address).

Faithful readers will recall that on Sunday I expressed the opinion that the Form 470 should not be tied to a funding year. Today I get a call asking me which funding year I meant to put on my Form 470.

We put "2012" in Box 2, and they wanted to confirm that we meant 2012-2013.

Hmmm.... Let's think about the current situation. Right now, you can only file a Form 470 for 2011-2012. Even though it's 117 days to late to file a 470 for 2011-2012. Even with the kinder, gentler FCC, it's hard to imagine getting a waiver for a 2011-2012 application that gets started now. The only application that's going to get approved based on a 470 filed now is a 2012-2013 application. But USAC has me blocked.

Mr. Blackwell, take down this wall.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Glass half empty

Allow me to get grumpy when I should be celebrating.

This afternoon I got the first set of notes from a service provider concerning 2011-2012 funding requests. I should be happy:
  1. This means that the applicants in question will be getting funded in the first wave.
  2. The service provider is really on the ball, which gives me hope that the August bills (and maybe even the July bills) will already show the E-Rate discount.
But I'm grumpy:
  1. The service provider spelled the name of the program "Erate."
  2. Why do service providers find out before applicants?
On spelling:
I feel like I'm fighting a rear-guard action on hyphenation. First, PIA dropped the hyphen, then the FCC dropped it. Suddenly, the controversy over capitalizing the "R" seems insignificant. (What's that I hear you saying, that controversy always was insignificant? Pshaw!) Are we really going to end up with "Erate"? Sorry, but it looks too much like some declension of "erratum," which may be a fitting name for the program, but is hardly flattering.

On informing applicants:
OK, it's only a few days' difference, but every year it sticks in my craw that the entire E-Rate universe knows about funding approvals before the applicant. Service providers know right now what funding's been approved in Wave 1, a week before applicants find out. State E-Rate Coordinators also find out before applicants. It's all public information, so I don't object to the information being available to everyone, but it just seems unfair that applicants are the last to know.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thinking Outside Box 2

So I needed to post a Form 470 this week, and a couple of things occurred to me.

First, why does Item 2 (where you fill in the the Funding Year) appear on the Form 470? The 470 is not necessarily tied to a funding year. For multi-year contracts, a Form 470 will be used for several funding years. And for construction projects, it may be necessary to file a Form 470 two years before the funding year. So why tie the Form 470 to a funding year?

While I was thinking about the Form 470's role in the E-Rate process, I realized that it offers a solution to the problems created by the heinous new SPIN change regulations. OK, maybe the Copan Order left things too wide open: applicants could do a SPIN change any time, to any service provider, without giving a reason. The new rules in the Sixth Report & Order remedy abuse that was apparently going on, but throws the baby out with the bathwater: you can't change without good reason, and if you do change, you have to pick whoever was the #2 bidder on the original 470. That means if a new money-saving opportunity comes along, applicants can't take advantage of it for 6-18 months. How about letting applicants switch any time they want, as long as they post a 470? That would stop the kind of abuse that the FCC was trying to stop, while still giving applicants the flexibility to take advantage of more cost-effective solutions that come up in the middle of the funding year.

It would go like this: someone at the school finds out they could save $100/month by switching long distance providers. Under my proposed scheme, the applicant could post a 470, accept bids for 28 days, and then switch providers.

It doesn't solve the problem entirely, since the district personnel who make the decision to change providers are not always aware that saving money by changing service providers is a violation of E-Rate rules, and the people who know the E-Rate rules often don't find out about the switch until it's too late. But at least my mid-year-470 plan would help out applicants who want to save money and are aware of E-Rate rules.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

How are the mighty waterfallen

This is the third, and I hope last, post concerning the FCC approval of the PIA procedures. But this one has nothing to do with the actual approval or any of its perceived grammatical flaws.

It's all about the URL. In past years, the approvals of PIA procedures always appeared on This year, it's in a slick new format with the URL "" I like the new format, but it increases my concern that hraunfoss is being phased out. Comfortingly, the links at the top of the announcement (that let you open up Word, PDF and text documents) all point to hraunfoss, but if you click on them, you're redirected to So for the moment, it seems hraunfoss is gone, but not forgotten.

Stayed tuned for more on this unfolding Icelandic saga.

I've got your 30 days right here

On the approval of PIA procedures for 2011, the FCC said, "In addition, on a going-forward basis, USAC should provide the Bureau with USAC's proposed PIA procedures 30 days prior to the opening of the filing window, beginning with the procedures for Funding Year 2012."

Sorry but I just have to put on the grammar curmudgeon hat: "on a going-forward basis" sets my teeth on edge. How about just saying "going forward"? Or perhaps the slightly more elegant "in the future"?

They're pushing the due date earlier. In 2009, the FCC said, “we would ask that you provide the Bureau with USAC's proposed PIA procedures at least 30 days prior to the close of the FCC Form 471 application window.”

Imagine a world where the PIA processing procedures are approved before the opening of the window. The first wave of funding could come out during the window! Now that would be an incentive for applicants to get the 471 done early.

A more pessimistic (realistic?) colleague posed the opposite possibility: this could force USAC to open the window later. Mel Blackwell has said he'd like a shorter window. So maybe this will be the impetus to shorten the window to 50 days....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

And they're off!

Hold on to your hats: the FCC has approved the PIA processing standards. USAC has been processing furiously, so there is a big pile of applications just waiting to be approved. Look for a monster first wave just as soon as USAC can warm up the presses to print FCDLs.

Unless.... The FCC mentions "substantive edits" were made. There is a risk that a lot of applications that had made it through PIA will be thrown back into review by those substantive edits.

Of course, we'll never really know: the edits, like the processing rules, are secret.