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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Throw me a Lifeline

Sometimes I see something in one of the other USF programs that makes me do a double take.  For instance, I just noticed the FCC sending out a bunch of notices like this one, telling people they were double-dipping in the Lifeline program (well, in the case of the individual I happened to choose, quintuple dipping).  [Perhaps the poor applicant was confusing it with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", where you get multiple lifelines.]

My first thought was, "The Commission takes the time to send a citation to each individual who violates the rules in the Lifeline program?!"  My second thought was, "No wonder they don't have time to respond to the massive backlog of E-Rate appeals."

And then I thought back to USAC's annual report, which lists (on p.21) the dollars that are spent administering the different programs in the USF.  USAC spends about $7.5 million on Lifeline and $70 million on E-Rate.  How does USAC manage a program with 16 million applicants for $7.5 million, but it takes $70 million to manage E-Rate, which doesn't even have 100,000 applicants?  Just think: USAC administrative expenditures on the Lifeline Program amount to less than 50 cents per applicant.

I guess there must be fewer Selective Reviews and Cost-Effectiveness Reviews in the Lifeline program.  And I'll bet the Lifeline Program doesn't have 700 pages of secret rules.  But I would expect more frequent abuse from a program like Lifeline, which is all about personal gain, than E-Rate, which is mostly the transfer of Federal dollars to local government agencies.  OK, so probably no one in the Lifeline Program is taking home millions, so maybe they should change the E-Rate's name to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Then I could start a discussion on whether the word "Be" should be capitalized in the new name of the program, or the even thornier question of how to deal with punctuation after a title that ends with a question mark.

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