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Friday, September 28, 2012

Telecom apples and Internet oranges

Wow!  Usually the release of the Eligible Services List (ESL) is a yawner: the FCC doesn't make any significant changes, and we already know what's coming, because there is an NPRM showing proposed changes.

But this year, the order accompanying the ESL is a bombshell that goes well beyond eligibility.  They have blown up the old "two priorities, four categories" classification of services.  (Anybody else get a mental image of John Noran doing the Vulcan salute when I said "two priorities, four categories"?)

Now, there is only Priority One.  No Telecommunications Services, no Internet Access, to say nothing of the weird troika of categories that was proposed on the ESL, which I suppose would have given Mr. Noran the opportunity to get his thumb involved in trying to clarify priorities and categories, but was otherwise useless.

I made the case that Priority One should be a single category back when the draft ESL came out, but I was more timid than the FCC, suggesting that the Form 470 and 471 should be changed first.  The FCC was more bold, saying that as long as applicants check either of the Priority One boxes on the Form 470, they can get any Priority One services.  I can't wait: putting Web hosting under Telecommunications Services will give me a dirty thrill, and putting POTS lines under Internet Access will feel so edgy.  (I guess this year, Mr. Noran will do the "Vulcan who wasn't careful with the lirpa" salute.)

So up to paragraph 7 of the order, I'm just thrilled: real reform that makes the program easier for applicants!

And then I hit paragraph 8: "When requesting E-rate funding applicants must continue to select the correct category of service on the FCC Form 471."  Oh, crap.  Of course they have to keep the categories on the 471, because of CIPA.  But now applicants have to figure out whether a particular service has to be in the Internet Access category (which means they have to comply with CIPA).  And since the FCC sheared off that kludgy column with the Telecom and Internet textboxes, you just have to kind of know what goes where.

Oh wait, surely there is guidance in the ESL.  Here it is, right on Page 1, with all that other crap no one ever reads: "CIPA Reminder.  The funding of Internet access in the telecommunications services category does not relieve applicants of complying with the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) if the service request includes Internet access."  What?  That's it?!  See for a normal person, E-mail service is not "Internet access."  Neither is "Web hosting."  And there is nothing in the descriptions of either of those services saying, "Whooop!  Whooop! If you're applying for this service, you must check the "Internet Access" box on the Form 471 and be CIPA compliant."  Or is the FCC saying that only actual "Internet access" requires CIPA compliance, and the other services that were under the old "Internet Access" no longer require CIPA compliance?  I don't think so, but that's actually what the ESL says.

Damn, this order was going so well.  I still can't decide if one bad paragraph spoils a whole bunch good.

Proofreader's note: The preamble of the Miscellaneous section still lists the old 4 categories.  That's OK, no one ever reads that part.

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