The Federal Communications Commission Jan. 25 issued a wide-ranging and long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking input on a wide variety of possible changes in the administration of the E-rate program.
The Commission provided no timetable for when changes, if any, would be implemented. It will accept comments on the proposals for 45 days after they are formally published in the Federal Register, and then reply comments for another 30 days.
The Commission said it was soliciting input on a number of ideas that program stakeholders have put forward for improving the program. It said its goals were "1) to consider changes that would fine-tune our rules to improve program operation; 2) to ensure that the benefits of the [E-rate] are distributed in a manner that is fair and equitable; and 3) to improve our oversight over this program" to ensure that the goals of the law are met without waste, fraud or abuse.
Among the issues that the Commission will seek input on are:
- whether it should create an online parts registry to provide an easy determination about the eligibility of products;
- ·whether it should review certain issues related to the eligibility of Wide Area Networks, cellular services and voice mail;
- the 30 percent threshold for reviewing funding requests that include both eligible and ineligible services, and determining whether they will be reduced or rejected;
- whether schools and libraries should be required to certify their compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act;
- whether applicants should be given the flexibility to use either the BEAR reimbursement process or receive discounted invoices, rather than letting service providers dictate that decision;
- whether applicants should be limited on how quickly they can transfer E-rate-supported equipment to another location;
- whether the time limit for filing an appeal should be permanently extended to 60 days, and make use of a post-marked date, rather than a receipt date;
- measures to strengthen enforcement tools, including possibly barring certain applicants and service providers from the program if they willfully or repeatedly fail to comply with program rules.
The Commission also solicited feedback on why so much committed funding goes unspent, noting that of the $3.7 billion committed in the first two program years, approximately $940 million has not been disbursed. It also solicited ideas on what could be done about this. At the same time, it dismissed three petitions for reconsideration that had challenged its decision to use unspent funds from Year 1 to reduce the collections from telecommunications providers.
The Commission also issued suggestions on any administrative or procedural rules or policies that should be revised or eliminated because they have become outmoded. It noted that "in the four years since the implementation of the support mechanism, some such rules or policies may have become obsolete through changed circumstances or technologies, or may have been rendered unnecessary or redundant in light of changes made to the program."
The full text of the Commission's notice is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-02-8A1.doc.