Search This Blog

Thursday, July 05, 2012

ESL getting worse

Hey, the new draft Eligible Services List (ESL) has been posted!  I haven't had time to look at it, but I'll give my ill-considered opinions based on the press release.

The press release lists 3 changes, which I'll deal with in reverse order.  The Cliff's Notes [for readers under 30, that's what us old fogies used before SparkNotes] assessment of these 3 changes: the first is meaningless, the second is dishonest, and the third is terrible.  Detailed griping:
  1. "Commercially available" is back in.  They took it out last year, but put it back in for clarity.  Oh, please.  The lack of clarity has nothing to do with the phrase "commercially available" and everything with the distinction the FCC is making between "telecommunications services," which must be provided by a common carrier, and "telecommunications," which can be provided by any company over fiber.  The ESL makes it sound like I could offer phone service over fiber without being a common carrier.  The distinction is hopelessly muddy, and "commercially available" doesn't help.  Really, what would a "non-commercially available" service be?  If it's not commercially available, how would applicants obtain the service?  This is the worst kind of jargon, because it masquerades as normal English.
  2. They removed citations to the orders, rules, etc. which underlie the eligibility rule to "streamline" the document.  Sorry, that's not "streamlining" the rules; it's "obscuring" the rules.  I'm all for simplifying the rules, but I'm opposed to hiding the complexity of the rules.  Because if people could see how complex this program's rules really are, they would demand real changes.  [And until the changes happened, applicants would be scared into hiring a consultant.]  I think every eligibility determination listed in the ESL should have citations that allow applicants and service providers to see the basis for the determination.
  3. And now the big one: they want to divide Priority One eligibility into 3 categories:
    1) Communications connectivity
    2) Voice services
    3) Other designated and related services
    Yup, the old "Telecommunications Services" and "Internet Access" categories would be gone.
    And that 
    idea is terrible for the following reasons:
    1. The Form 470 and 471 still have the old categories.  So now applicants will have less idea where to put services on those forms.  Any change to the ESL categories should be coordinated with a change in the forms, and since changing the forms involves public comment and OMB approval, it isn't going to happen for 2013-2014.  If the FCC wants to mess with the categories, they should start by announcing a change to the forms, and get that wrapped up before changing the ESL.  The 3 proposed categories do not align at all with the categories on the form, creating more confusion, not less.
    2. The categories suck.  There is only 1 distinction that matters for Priority One: services that have to be provided by a common carrier, and those services that can be provided by anyone.  Once upon a time, that distinction coincided nicely with the "Telecommunications" and "Internet Access" categories.  Then along came VoIP and dark fiber, and now it's all muddy.  But these new categories really stir up the muck, since they each contain both "Telecommunications Services" and "Information Services" (to use the FCC's old terminology, rendered useless by the FCC's inability to decide where VoIP belonged).
What should the FCC do?  Well, if they want to keep categories, they should:
  1. Change the Form 470 and 471 for 2014-2015 so that they have 2 categories of service in Priority One:
    1) Services that must be provided by companies that file a Form 499
    2) services that can be provided by  companies that don't file a Form 499
  2. Reorganize the 2014-2015 ESL to make clear which Priority One services must be provided by Form 499 filers.
We'll use the Form 499 distinction, because "common carrier" and "Eligible Telecommunications Provider" got too murky, so it will be clearer to distinguish companies by whether they file a Form 499.  That's the terminology used in USAC's SPIN Contact Search tool, so let's try to be consistent.

But an even better solution would be to get rid of categories entirely.  Don't make applicants keep track of the regulatory status of service providers.  Applicants just apply for eligible services, and get funded.  If it turns out that a service that should have been provided by a Form-499-filer was provided by a company that does not file a Form 499, take it out of the hide of the service provider, since they shouldn't be providing those services.  Really, why should applicants have to get involved in service provider compliance issues?

1 comment:

  1. I didn't notice right away, but look: there is a column in the ESL which just shows whether a service is a "Telecom. services," "Internet access," or both. I like the idea. But still, they need to get rid of the use of "Internet access" to mean "provided by a company that does not file a Form 499." Because a dark-fiber WAN is not "Internet access."