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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't Curse the CER

I'm such an E-Rate geek.  Why do I even read this stuff?  So it seems the House of Representatives passed the   FCC Process Reform Act.  It's never going to pass the Senate, and if it did, the President would veto it, but "process reform" sounds promising.

I'm not going to read the bill, since I'm trying to cut down on caffeine, and it takes a lot of stimulant to make it through an actual bill, but it seems the chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee wants to promote openness and transparency in FCC processes and procedures.  That sounded hopeful, but it turns out he was talking about the rulemaking procedures, which I've always thought was the most transparent part of the E-Rate.  Imagine what the chairman would think if he learned about PIA and the 700 pages of secret rules.

Anyway, the bill would have forced the FCC to release the exact text of proposed rules, and give the public 30 days to comment.  Sounds good, except that if the FCC actually made any changes based on public comment, wouldn't they then have to post the changed rule for another 30 days?  I think it would mean interminable comment cycles.

The article says that the chairman complained that the FCC reformed the Universal Service Program without publishing the proposed changes even after approving them.  I noticed the same thing with the Sixth Report and Order.  And there were definitely some changes made in the Sixth Report and Order that were not in any NPRM.

But on the whole, I don't think we need to shine a flashlight on the reasonably well-lit rulemaking process.  Instead, how about lighting a candle in the PIA darkness.  Even better, let's set fire to the Cost Effectiveness Review, and let that cheery blaze illuminate the rest of the PIA process.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Plead for Leave to Plead

I've blogged before about the irony of the FCC rejecting appeals that were filed late.  Ironic because the FCC is required to decide on appeals within 90 days, and rarely comes close to that.  So the latest appeal decision denying a request for review filed 62 days after the original decision wouldn't bear mention, except it seems like the FCC was dropping a hint on what to do if you miss the 30-day deadline.  The FCC said:  "The Commission’s rules further provide that no petition for reconsideration will be considered if it is filed after the 30-day period 'except upon leave granted upon a separate pleading for leave to file.'  Because no such separate pleading has been submitted, we dismiss the petition as untimely."

Is it just me, or does it seem like the FCC is saying, "Hint hint, file a pleading for leave"?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Good better bad worse

Monday's FCC appeal decision had some good news, then better news, then bad news, then worse news.

Good news: The FCC is finally taking up the issue of the Cost-Effectiveness Review (CER), the most heinous of PIA procedures.  I can't recall an earlier decision about CERs.  Don't know what a CER is?  Count your blessings.  It's a Kafkaesque review where PIA pretends to investigate one thing, while in fact comparing a funding request to some secret standards.

Better news: All the appeals were granted, not just given waivers.  "We find that the applicants listed in the appendix met the requirements for demonstrating that the costs of the products and services in the funding requests were reasonable based on their circumstances and therefore were cost-effective under Commission rules."  So it's not just the FCC giving applicants a mulligan; they're actually saying the applicants were right and USAC was wrong.  I feel the urge to say, "In your face!" but I will refrain.

Bad news: So after I read the above sentence, I jumped to the appendix to see if any of my appeals were in there, and they aren't.  The real bad news was that the list was so short.  I noted back in 2008 that CER appeals were piling up, but this decision only deals with 8 appeals filed since 2009.  What about all the other appeals languishing at the FCC?

Worse news: There is no "Further, we direct USAC..." paragraph.  We get no discussion of why the FCC ruled the way it did, no hint about whether CERs are proper, whether there should be standards, and what those standards should be, or what USAC should have done differently in these cases.  So USAC has no reason to amend their practices, and if they were so inclined, have no guidance on what changes should be made.

I was able to find most of the appeals, and here's my summary of the denial reasons:

Hondo Valley School District: couldn't find it.
Leak & Watts Services: Nothing specific, just "exceeded the applicant's reasonable needs."
Mel Blount Youth Home: Many things were too high: Cost per student, Number of students per server, Number of students per switch, Number of ports per student, Number of students per WAP, cost per cabling drop & Number of cabling drops per student.
Navajo Prep School: A cost/student of $17,898.75 is too high.
American Internet Group, LLC: $609.52 per cabling drop is too high.
Shiprock Associated Schools:  Again, the vague "exceeded the applicant's reasonable needs."
Step Special Torah Education Program: Two servers costing $21,790 each is too much for a school of 40-50 kids.
Universal/Star International Academics: couldn't find it.

One final non-E-Rate note: doesn't "Leak & Watts Services" sound like a good name for a combined plumbing/electrical company?

Friday, March 02, 2012

One down, two to go

Pamplona, eat your heart out: once again, it's time for the annual "Running of the Notification of Form 470 Posted but No Associated Form 471 Letters."  Back when these first came out in 2008, I had four gripes:
  1. The envelopes were not color-coded.
  2. Since almost every applicant gets one, it's spam.
  3. It doesn't actually convey useful information.
  4. It's a waste of paper.
First, the good news: I can strike #4 off the list!  Today's notification came by email.  And that means I can take #1 off, too, since emails can't be color-coded.  But I'll still take the opportunity to restate my opinion that all correspondence should come in an envelope that is the color of the paper inside.

OK, so at least this useless correspondence is not using up colored paper and white envelopes.

But the other two complaints are the real meat of the matter.  In Paragraph 24 of the Bishop Perry Order, the FCC commanded: "USAC shall also develop a more targeted outreach program and educational efforts to inform and enlighten applicants on the various application requirements.... USAC should also notify applicants that have filed an FCC Form 470, but have failed to file an FCC Form 471 or its certification by the close of the filing window."

It's pretty clear to me that what the FCC had in mind: at the close of the filing window, USAC should notify all applicants who had filed a 470, but not a 471.  How can USAC notify "applicants that ... have failed to file an FCC Form 471 ... by the close of the filing window" before the filing window closes?  Instead, USAC notified applicants who had not filed a 471 by March 2nd that they had not filed a Form 471.  As Mel is fond of pointing out every year, 90% of Forms 471 are filed in the last 2 weeks of the window.  So 90% of applicants got this email.  So much for "targeted."

Further, I'll bet something like 90% of applicants filed their Forms 470 after February 3rd, which means that they aren't even allowed to have filed a Form 471 yet.

How does USAC get away with sending out these notifications in direct violation of the FCC's order to send them to applicants who "have failed to the close of the filing window"?  No one has yet failed to file by the close of the window.  No one will have failed to file until March 21st, which is the first day USAC should be allowed to send out this notice.

So kudos on not killing any trees for this useless time-wasting violation of an FCC order, I guess.