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Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday cheer, but not where you expect it

Here is the FCC's Christmas gift this year: an appeal decision granting waivers to applicants with no contracts.  It appears that the requirement to have a contract before filing the 471 is actually more like a requirement that you have something like a contract close to the time of filing the 471.

But instead of just celebrating this cheery decision, I'm going to whine.  After all, that is what readers have come to expect.

First of all, I will reiterate that the FCC's requirement that school districts and public libraries sign contracts in March for services that start in July and end the following June is illegal.  When I called an individual who helped write the public purchasing law in NJ, and explained the E-Rate contracting requirement to him, his response was, "But that's illegal!"  Since budgets for the following fiscal year aren't approved, it is illegal to sign contracts for that fiscal year.

Second of all, the FCC waived the rules for 40 appellants, and granted 7 appeals on their merits, without telling us which appeals fall into which category.  OK, so it makes no real difference to the applicants, and there are probably only 2 or 3 people in the world who would actually take the time to go back and look at the appeals that were granted, but consarn it, I am one of those people.  I want to know the 7 appeals where the FCC thought USAC had it wrong, so that I can learn more about the FCC's thinking, and use this decision as a precedent in future appeals to the FCC and USAC.

But here's the record-scratch moment from this decision: "In addition, we grant...petitioners waivers of our filing deadline for appeals because we find...the late-filed appeal would never have been necessary absent an error on the part of USAC."  Wait, did the FCC just say that in cases where USAC makes a mistake, the filing deadline will be waived?!  Let's check that footnote: "Based on the record, USAC erred in its decision to deny funding for these petitioners for not having a signed contract in place when the Form 471 was submitted.  If USAC had not erred, the petitioners would not have had to file an appeal."

So there's no statue of limitations on USAC error?  Even I can't find anything to complain about with that policy.  It seems only fair that if applicants can lose funding for mistakes made up to 5 years ago, we should be able to appeal mistakes made for at least 5 years.

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