On June 20, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the USAC Service Provider training session held in Los Angeles. The event seemed to be well-attended, and USAC staff were welcoming and eager to answer questions and provide assistance. Highlights from the training include:

  • It seemed to be a bit of a bittersweet session for Mel Blackwell, Vice President of the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD), as this year’s trainings are the last he will attend in his current role. Mr. Blackwell is retiring from USAC soon, and the crowd gave a hearty round of applause in recognition of his work with USAC for the past 18 years.
     
  • USAC was candid about the challenges encountered this year in the new E-rate Productivity Center (EPC.) Stating that they had “not delivered on [their] grand vision,” they recognized that it was a monumental challenge to try to develop a system in a number of months. Still, they seemed hopeful that many of the challenges could be smoothed out and were genuinely soliciting input and suggestions from the training attendees.
     
  • The SPAC (Service Provider Annual Certification, or FCC Form 473) is currently sitting at the Office of Management and Budget for approval. Once the OMB approves, the SPAC will be available in E-File for filing. Service providers who have previously sent in a FY2016 SPAC on paper using the old Form must file a new one electronically in E-File (paper SPACs will no longer be accepted, and the FY2015 and prior Form cannot be accepted for FY2016.)
     
  • It seemed as though the transition to direct BEAR payments to applicants was well thought out and will work smoothly. BEARs will still be filed by applicants using the “legacy” BEAR system, but the service provider certification step has been removed. Service providers will, however, still be able to see BEARs filed by applicants in E-File and will still receive Bear Notification Letters (BNLs.) Regarding the transition:
     
    • Paper BEARs will continue to be accepted until the last day of June. After that date, all BEARs must be filed electronically.
    • USAC will continue to issue BEAR disbursements to service providers up to and including June 30. After that date, all BEAR disbursements will be made to applicants directly.
    • For BEARs that are filed on or before June 30 but are processed and paid on or after July 1, payment will go to the applicant directly. If the applicant has not filed the FCC Form 498, USAC has planned an outreach procedure to follow up on those BEARs.
    • Applicants must successfully file the FCC Form 498 before BEAR payments can be issued. The online BEAR system will not accept a BEAR if the Form 498 for the Billed Entity is not on file.
    • The “financial contact” user in EPC will receive a remittance statement for each BEAR.
       
  • USAC indicated that they were “reviewing the strictness” of their current process regarding validation of physical service delivery addresses on invoices at the payment paperwork stage. They indicated that their checks might be a bit too stringent, and were looking at alternate ways to accomplish the validation they require.
     
  • USAC has hired a third party firm to design a “new customer relationship management approach” and a redesign of the USAC website. The firm was in attendance, soliciting input from attendees regarding some ideas and mock-ups of the new website. Representatives of the company stated that they ultimately wanted USAC to become more “journey centered” than “Form centered.”