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Saturday, June 21, 2014

E-Rate Bestiary

I was reading the Chairman's press release about the reforms circulating at the FCC, and I was thinking, "He is busily chopping heads off the hydra."  For example, he promises an expedited application process, then says it's for small-dollar, cost-effective applications.  So now your application has to go into a pre-review to determine what kind of review it's going into.  Creating new paths through the process does not simplify the program; it just adds to the tangle.

But it gets worse: it looks like the Chairman is planning to actually graft a head onto the hydra.  I was reading some of the press reports, and found a tidbit from an anonymous "senior FCC official" (reported in both The Hill and Reuters): Wi-Fi funding will be "allocated depending on the size of a school's student body."  I try not to use vulgarities in this blog, but this idiocy has me sorely tempted. This isn't E-Rate 2.0, it's a whole new spinoff: hey kids, line up to get the Wi-Fi-Rate!  Think about it: the Chairman has set up a separate pile of funding that is going to be allocated in a new way with a different discount matrix.  It's worse than grafting heads: he wants to bring in a second hydra!  Only it's not a hydra....

Have you figured out that it gets worse?  Remember that the Commissioner keeps saying that "modernized rules" will bring Wi-Fi support to 10 million students next year.  So it really seems like he's going to bring Wi-Fi to 20% of the nation's students each year.  Yup, the Chairman was dissatisfied with the paucity of heads on the E-Rate hydra, so he's bringing in the  PeckingOrder-DinnerTable-1in5 chimera.  However, the chimera won't grow two heads for every one that's cut off, so the Chairman has proactively grafted the 80% top discount and per-student funding allocation onto the chimera.  The Wi-Fi-Rate is a whole new beast.

Kudos to the Chairman: he's taken the per-student allocation idea, which was supposed to simplify the program, and turned it into a way to make the program more complicated.

What does this mean?  Well, it means you know exactly what your district is going to get for Wi-Fi funding: $1 billion divided by 10 million students means $100/student.  But you don't know when you'll get it.  Somehow, the nation's schools will be divided into 5 groups, and will be funded in one of the next five years.  The schools that won't get any funding until FY 2019-2020 should be called "the Group of Death."

By the way, the Chairman's 10-million-students-at-a-time schedule puts us on track to reach 99% of students in 5 program years, but those 5 years end on June 30, 2020; the Prez said "within 5 years" on June 6, 2013.  To hit his goal, we need to wrap this up by PY 2017-2018, so we should be shooting for 16.6 million students per year.

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