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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Wheeler of Fortune

Well, Chairman Wheeler's remarks at Digital Learning Day certainly didn't live up to the hype I had created inside my head.

What changes are there for 2014?  Consortium applications will get priority.  That's it.

Yes, he kept talking about extra funding for broadband this year, but that's meaningless, since there is no need for more.  Making $2 billion available doesn't mean $2 billion will be requested.  He did commit to fully funding Priority One requests for 2014-2015, but I don't think anyone really expected P1 requests to go unfunded.

The most interesting thing he said: the Commision will "improve the efficiency of how we treat old applications – appeals, holds, and other outstanding requests.... We will get to work immediately to get those funds moving."  The FCC has been clearing the backlog of appeals pretty well, but it sounds like he really wants to step on the gas.  Time for my "a decision in 90 days or your appeal is automatically granted" policy proposal.

The Chairman also released the schedule on reforms that he had promised during Congressional hearings in December.

First, he wants to have an Order covering structural and administrative changes (based on last summer's NPRM) released this spring to go into effect for 2015-2016.  I like that timetable.

Second, he wants to drop a new NPRM "in the coming weeks" to get more comments on a few issues.  What issues? "[H]ow to appropriately phase out legacy services, including low-bandwidth connections, and reprioritize on broadband."

That brings up what I thought was the most interesting part of the speech: it is clear the Chairman wants the E-Rate to about broadband, and only broadband.  What will be tossed out?  I guess we'll have a chance to comment on that this spring, and probably find out when the Eligible Services List is released in the fall.  Look for a shocking ESL for 2015-2016.

The Chairman putting "low-bandwidth connections" in the crosshairs shows the danger for a few applicants in the "100 Mbps to 99% of students" goal: if you can't get 100 Mbps to your school, you don't contribute to the goals of the program, so we shouldn't spend program funds on you.  All you can afford is 6 Mbps over DSL or 15 Mpbs over satellite or 50 Mbps over cable?  No funding for you!  And because you're such a small school, we can easily fit you in the 1% and still meet our goal.  Of course, it is a 5-year goal, and I kind of think in 5 years, you'll be able to get 100 Mbps anywhere.

So let's see: by the spring, the FCC will clear the appeal/black hole backlog, release a new NPRM, process the 1400 requests from the last NPRM, and release a new order overhauling the application process.  And then the ESL will be completely rewritten by the fall.  WCB now stands for "Working like Crazy Bureau."

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