The Schools and Libraries Division announced July 18 that it will begin making new information about E-rate funding requests, including vendor's name and commitment amount, publicly available, starting July 25.
The SLD said the data file, available through its Web site, will contain more than 40 data points, including applicant name, service provider name, requested and committed funding commitments. Users will be able to select the funding requests for which they want information by funding year and state. They will then be able to further refine their query by service type, application type, discount percent, Form 471 number and FRN. Once the criteria have been submitted, the system will build a tab-delimited data file that can then be downloaded. With a Form 471 number, interested parties will also be able to view completed Form 471s.
The SLD said future versions of the system will include actual amount disbursed to date.
Up to now, the Federal Communications Commission and the SLD have taken the position that the information could not be made public because it was considered proprietary.
However, on May 20, Joseph Hall, the assistant bureau chief for management of the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, granted a FOIA request submitted by Local Union 98, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, seeking copies of specific Funding Commitment Decisions Letters and Forms 486 and BEAR forms. The FCC ruled that there was nothing in the forms and letters that would render them exempt from FOIA and noted that the forms had incorrectly included Privacy Act notices, even though the Privacy Act pertains to individuals.
On June 7, Funds For Learning, LLC filed an FOIA request that cited Hall's decision and sought access to all funding commitment decision letters issued since the start of the program. FCC officials had asked FFL for an extension to July 27 to respond to its request, and FFL had agreed to provide the FCC with additional time.
In its announcement, the SLD noted that many of the program's forms "contained erroneous references to the Privacy Act" and that these references would be removed from future versions of the forms. The SLD said it had "been working on making this information available for many months and believes it will enable applicants to track the status of their funding requests more closely."
The SLD said it would make data about actual disbursements available in the future. In comments that FFL had filed in response to the FCC's recent Notice of Proposed Rule-making involving the E-rate program, FFL had urged the FCC to make disbursement information public. "As funding requests have grown over the life of the program," it wrote, "stakeholders should be able to determine which applicants are, in effect, 'wasting' money by not putting it to use. We believe that shining a light on this practice would help to curb it."