The Federal Communications Commission April 24 rejected an appeal filed by the Information Technology Department of the state of North Dakota, backing up a Schools and Libraries Division decision to reject a statewide application because the state failed to get its signed paper certification and supporting documents postmarked by the close of the application window for the 2001 (Year 4) funding year.
Prior to that year, applicants who submitted their applications online had additional days in which to submit their signed paper certifications and supporting documents. However, for the 2001 application cycle, the SLD began requiring all applicants to get this documentation postmarked by Jan. 18, 2001, the close of the filing window. The practical effect was that an applicant could file a late-night, online application only if it were in a position to get the rest of its application to a post office or delivery service by midnight that night.
However, as part of an application filed on behalf of a number of applicants in the state, the North Dakota agency filed an online application on Jan 18, 2001, but did not submit the required paper documents until Feb. 9, 2001. The SLD subsequently ruled that the application was filed "outside of the filing window," and thus was ineligible for support.
In its appeal, the state contended that the new procedure was confusing, was not clearly explained to applicants and unduly penalized poor applicants in its state. However, in its decision, the staff of the Wireline Competition Bureau noted that the SLD had mailed letters to 61,000 potential applicants, detailing the procedural changes, that the information had been posted on the SLD Website and that 100 news outlets had been notified.
In a brief separate statement, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps noted the negative impact that the SLD's position had had on small schools and libraries, including a number in Puerto Rico, and said he would have been inclined to grant the waiver of the Commission's rules that North Dakota had requested. In the 2000 funding year, entities in that state qualified for $1,751,953 worth of funding commitments, according to the data reported on the SLD's Web site as of April 30, 2002, but only $128,867 in the 2001 funding year that was the subject of the appeal. The Commission's decision is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-02-956A1.pdf.