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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.

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