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Appellants Get Mixed Results

The Schools and Libraries Division received 1,630 timely filed appeals of decisions it madeThe Schools and Libraries Division received 1,630 "timely filed" appeals of decisions it made in the first funding year, and about 430 were found to be meritorious. Since then, nearly 130 of those decisions have been appealed to the Federal Communications Commission.

So far, the FCC is proving to be a tough sell. It has rejected a number of cases without discussion of the merits, citing the applicant's failure to file its appeal within 30 days of the date the SLD issued its decision. Several applicants complained that that requirement was not made clear in their funding commitment letters, and the requirement was not posted to the SLD Web site until March, after all the letters had been issued. The only exception the FCC has made so far was in cases when an appeal was filed before Jan. 1, 1999, the date the rules on appeals took effect. In one such case, a school district (United School District #217 in Rolla, KS) successfully used the argument that its funding commitment letter had arrived when school offices were closed for the Christmas holidays.

Among the other positions that the FCC has taken in the decisions it had issued through Oct. 25:

  • rejected the appeal of an applicant (Charlotte County, VA) whose application was mishandled by the U.S. Postal Service, resulting in a delivery date outside of the SLD's filing window.rejected the appeal of a private school (Nefesh Academy in Brooklyn), which contended its application had been rejected because of its failure to reply within seven days to a request from the SLD for more information late in the funding commitment process. The FCC responded that the request was reasonable and the school had provided no additional arguments to justify the approval of its funding commitments.rejected an appeal of a school district (Enterprise City School District in Alabama) that wanted to use the so-called "feeder school method" to raise its discount rate so that it could qualify for internal connections. Under the feeder school method, districts attempt to demonstrate that a particular school's discount rate should be raised because all the lower schools that "feed" into it have higher discount rates. The commission said that the only approved methods for determining eligibility for the federal school lunch program were those contained in Title I of the Improving America's Schools Act. The FCC also noted that while the Enterprise City district argued that other schools had received funding based on this method, it did not provide additional facts or evidence to prove that.

So far, only a handful of applicants have succeeded in their appeals. These included the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District in Industry, CA, which received approval for approximately $3 million in discounts for an ATM network telecommunications services provided by GTE California. The FCC said the SLD had incorrectly concluded that the services were not "commercially available."

Mesa Vista Consolidated School District in El Rito, NM, got an extension of the Sept. 30, 1999 installation deadline because of the hoops it was required to go through when the vendor with whom it had contracted stopped doing business in New Mexico. The SLD had required the district to wait until newrules were in place for changing vendors and then to post a new Form 470 to its Web site.

In addition, the FCC approved another appeal along the lines of its earlier decision involving the state network in Tennessee. In this case, involving the Indiana Intelenet Commission, the FCC agreed that routers that were provided by a vendor as part of an Internet access service could qualify as

Internet access, rather than internal connections after finding that the facts in the case refuted the "rebuttable presumption" that they should be classified as internal connections.

But for all the rhetoric about the need to close the "Digital Divide," the FCC showed no sympathy for applicants that tried to play that card. "To simply advert," as the FCC said one appellant did, "to its limited resources and the needs of its students, does not distinguish its situation from other applications the SLD must process each funding year … "

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