Political developments over the last week or so could derail additional funding for E-rate. In early June, speaking at the Mooresville Middle School in North Carolina, President Obama laid out an educational technology plan dubbed “ConnectEd” (see our newsletter of June 10, 2013, and the Administration’s Fact Sheet). A key part of the plan set a five-year goal of connecting 99 percent of America’s students at broadband speeds of no less than 100 Mbps (and an actual target of 1 Gbps) per 1,000 students. Not surprisingly, the same broadband goal was embodied in the FCC’s July NPRM.
Although neither the speech itself nor the Fact Sheet mentioned additional funding for E-rate, post-speech indications from the Administration suggested that USF surcharges might be raised on the order of $5 per line per year to meet the five-year goal. This proposal received little attention until the President’s broadband initiative became the subject of a front page article in the Washington Post on August 14th.
When asked about this in a White House press briefing later that day, Principal Deputy Secretary Josh Ernest inadvertently politicized the ConnectEd proposal. He noted that this was a presidential recommendation to the FCC, and that such an action could be taken by the FCC without Congressional action. The next question was: “So the FCC will decide whether or not the tax is applied? You’re not making an end-run around Congress in this case?”
Given the political sensitivity of taxes, we would have hoped that the response could have clarified that USF surcharges are not taxes, but that was not mentioned at all. Instead, only adding fuel to the fire, the response was:
Well, “end-run” is not the word I would use. What I would say is that there has been – what we have seen from Congress is we’ve seen a lot of stagnation and dysfunction, and an inability to act on some rather obvious priorities of the American people. And so we have made pretty clear – and I think the President has demonstrated a willingness – to act on his own where he can and where necessary to make progress on those priorities. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in this case.
In the past week, we have seen some indication of Congressional agitation which might first surface in the confirmation process for the two new FCC Commissioners (including Tom Wheeler, the nominee for Chairman). Hopefully, this too shall pass and E-Rate 2.0 will move forward.
ONLINE Version of the FCC 472-BEAR (Billed Entity Application Reimbursement Form) Will be Temporarily Unavailable.
Traditionally after receiving a schools monthly cost for a Funding Year, our staff is able to go on USAC’s website and electronically post, check status and verify funding disbursements. However, because the FCC has instructed changes to this form, USAC had to remove the electronic version with implications that it would be up soon. The most recent information is by the end of August rather than the end of July as previously reported. Because of this delay, CTI staff are now filing any BEAR form by mail so there will be now additional delays in submitting however, we still have no way of checking if BEARs have been verified to disbursed to the service providers. We are sorry for the possible delay in your reimbursement but we do our best to keep you informed with what the FCC and USAC are posting. For the time, the website post shown below is the only information we have.
SLD Fall Applicant Training Schedule:
The SLD has scheduled eight one-day applicant training sessions this fall from late September through early November. As of last Friday, registrations are being accepted on a waiting list only basis for Washington DC, Houston, and Los Angeles. Regular registrations are still being accepted for Newark (10/8), Minneapolis (10/15), St. Louis (10/22), Atlanta (10/24), and Portland (11/7), but less than 200 spaces are available in total.
FCC Appeal Decisions Watch:
The FCC continued its recent support of USAC findings involving competitive bidding violations by denying an appeal by Fall River PSD (DA 13-1159). Similar to the Henrico County SD decision (DA 13-999) reported two weeks ago in our newsletter of May 13, 2013, the FCC agreed that Fall River had failed to assign the highest weight to price in its vendor selection process. The district had weighted price the same as another factor, “knowledge of infrastructure.” The FCC again rejected the argument that the same bidder would have one had price been weighted higher, noting that all four bidders had received identical scores in the “price/charges” category, suggesting that price was an irrelevant factor.
Update on the FCC Chairmanship:
Former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s resignation became effective May 17th. President Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to replace him, but has not yet sent his name to the Senate for confirmation. We expect that the President will first make a second nomination to replace Robert McDowell, who also recently resigned, so that the two nominees, a Democrat and a Republican, can be presented to the Senate for confirmation as a package. In the interim, Mignon Clyburn is serving as Acting Chairwoman.
Schools and Libraries News Brief Dated May 24 – Information Requests from USAC
The SLD News Brief for May 24, 2013, summarizes USAC’s procedures for requesting additional information from applicants either to complete data entry on paper forms by the Problem Resolution group, or to review pending applications by the