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Monday, August 25, 2014

Prices not yet lower than expectations

Enough whining: it's time to praise the FCC for getting it right on some things.  And by "getting it right," I mean, of course, "agreeing with me."

Back in March, I posted a response to a speech by Chairman Wheeler.  In the speech, the Chairman asked: "What can we do to help all schools pay the lowest price for the best service?"  I made six suggestions.  Let's see how the FCC did on implementing them.
1. Free the Item 21 Attachments! Yes!
2. Enforce your Lowest Corresponding Price rules.  Make service providers tell applicants their LCP. Maybe we'll see enforcement.  I still don't see any punishments mentioned, but the new rules are clearer, so that’s some progress.  And freeing the Item 21 Attachments is a step towards informing applicants of LCP.
3. Toss the Form 470.  Allow applicants to negotiate contracts as they see fit. A little.  The Form 470 is tossed if you use a Preferred Master Contract or buy Internet access for less than $3,600, but you can’t negotiate in either of those cases, and the rest of your purchases still have to use the Form 470.
4. Allow applicants to make operational SPIN changes any time they want. No.
5. Don't force applicants to sign illegal contracts locking in prices 3-4 months before service starts. No.  Well, there is some weird new guidance about not needing a written contract in some cases, but it’s useless and confusing.
6. Lower the top discount levels. Yes.  But they only lowered the 90% discount to 85% for Category 2, which is the absolute least they could do.

So only one unqualified "No."  At least we saw some movement on all but one suggestion.  That's pretty good for the FCC.  And freeing the Item 21 Attachments is really important.  If LCP enforcement happens, that will be huge.

Overall, I give it a C-.  But I'm a pretty tough grader.  If I were grading FCC decisions on a curve, I would give their performance on this list a B, maybe even a B+.

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