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Thursday, July 03, 2014

With supporters like this...

I read the Chairman's recent blog post about his visit to the Acoma Learning Center in New Mexico, and I thought, "How hard did he have to search to find a rural library that received E-Rate funding?"  Then I look at the Learning Center's funding history.

Priority One Priority Two
FY Requested Approved Disbursed Requested Approved Disbursed
2014 $ 31,763.66 $ - $ -
2013 $ 10,668.43 $ - $ - $ 35,732.99 $ - $ -
2012 $ 35,386.53 $ - $ -
2010 $ 73,658.73 $ - $ - $ 502,707.89 $ 477,724.33 $ 97,033.38
2000 $ 4,455.00 $ 4,455.00 $ - $ 292.50 $ 157.50 $ -

All those empty boxes?  Years in which the Learning Center didn't apply.

So when the Chairman said, "The FCC’s E-Rate program has supported basic Internet access for the Acoma Learning Center," I guess he's referring to that one equipment purchase in FY 2010-2011.  Otherwise, the center's gotten nothing.  They are a 90% applicant, so the only thing that's been holding them back from getting telephone, Internet, internal connections and basic maintenance funding is the application process and program requirements.

The Chairman did say the program needs to do more.  In his position, I might have described it as a failure of the E-Rate program, noting the old rules weren't working for rural libraries.

But here's another way to look at it.  The Learning Center's P1 need is about $10,000/year.  Under the proposed rules, a tiny library is going to get $6,000 in C2 funding once in 5 years.  So while Acoma only got funding once under the old rules, they got as much funding in that one year as they'll get in 9 years under the new rules.

Will the new rules work better to get rural libraries into the program?  I don't know, because we haven't seen them.  Here's what would work for Acoma: 1) remove CIPA, and 2) simplify the application process.  The first isn't really in the FCC's control.  As for the second, we've been told that there will be a simplified application process, but it seems to be only for low-dollar applicants whose prices fall below a certain threshold.  What are the chances that a remote library will get prices low enough to qualify for the simplified application process?  Not good.  Does $10,000 meet the "low dollar" threshold?  Maybe.  But I don't see how they'll stay low-dollar if they pull in some fiber to get a 100 Mbps connection.

So I don't expect the upcoming reforms to make the table above look better in the future.  How could we set them on the path to funding?  They could hire a consultant.  I know some people find E-Rate consultants distasteful, and I try not to promote the use of consultants too much in this blog, but this case is crying out for one.  I mean, if you saw that a company hadn't filed its taxes correctly a single time in 17 years, mightn't you suggest they contract with an accounting firm?


  1. Actually, you know who should help the Learning Center get funded? The Albuquerque School District. The should form a consortium. Because consortia use a straight average of member's discount rates, tiny Acoma Learning Center's 90% discount would drag Albuquerque's discount up from 86% to 88%, meaning an extra $137,000/year.

    If the Santa Fe School District decided to consort with the Learning Center, it would increase their funding by more than a quarter million dollars.

  2. I was just reading about another visit the Chairman made to rural America, Little Wound school in SD:

    He said the people at the school told him: "We have to have to-each-student connectivity. We couldn't get it out of the E-rate program, because there's nothing available for rural schools like us for Wi-Fi connectivity...."

    Uh, Little Wound is a 90% applicant. Any time up to 2012-2013, the E-Rate would have paid for whatever Wi-Fi they wanted. They didn't apply since 2008-2009, when they got $803,177.99. (Well, they applied for $259,723.80 in 2014-2015, but it looks like the Chairman is going to choose not to fund P2 in 2014-2015, so he can use the money next year.)

    So the school has gotten over $800,000 in internal connections over the last 5 years. If the Chairman's Wi-Fi chimera is adopted, they'll get $93,240 over the next 5 years. Are they better off?

    It's a good thing that they've been getting $15,000-$30,000/year in funding for voice services, so they would at least have that money to spend on Wi-Fi.