The Schools and Libraries Division and its contractor have set March 10 as their goal for completing the review of all pending funding requests for the 2002 funding year.
SLD Chief George McDonald told the quarterly meeting of the Schools and Libraries Committee of the Universal Service Administrative Company's Board of Directors that as of today, the SLD still had 2,581 applications from 900 applicants, totaling $1.4 billion, left to process. So far, the SLD has committed $1.672 billion; it is authorized to commit as much as $2.7 billion.
The March date was specified in a performance agreement that the SLD has prepared with the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), which does the actual review of applications. Under Federal Communications Commission rules, applicants who do not receive their 2002 funding commitments until after March 1 will have until September 30, 2004 to make use of commitments for non-recurring commitments. However, commitments for recurring services can be used only in the traditional funding year, which ends June 30, 2003.
Board member Robert Rivera, president of Spectrum Communications, a Southern California systems integrator, expressed concern at the meeting about the pace of commitments. He noted that the pending applications "represent half the money that will be distributed." Rivera said that 25 percent of the applications from California had not been funded yet. "The perception among schools is, 'If we haven't been funded, did we do something wrong?'" (Funding data compiled by Funds For Learning indicates that as of today, of $332 million requested by California applicants, $81 million has been committed, $58.3 million has been rejected, and another $192 million worth of requests are still pending.)
Committee Chair Brian Talbott noted that among the remaining applications, "there has to be some concerns that we need to work through. We need to err on the side of caution in getting these out."
Rivera added that "I'm not saying, 'Let's write a check and let service providers go scot free." But, he said, he was concerned about schools that were facing budget crises and had been required to pay their full phone bills from the start of the year because of the program's delays.
Rivera also expressed concern about delays in processing installation deadline extension requests. The SLD currently has 195 of these in hand, including 49 that are more than a year old.
The SLD and NECA have also set February 20 as their goal for processing all outstanding funding requests from previous funding years, which total 314, including 309 from the 2001 funding year. McDonald said that the performance goal for the 2003 funding year was to have 80 percent of the funding commitments approved by the start of the funding year on July 1. He reported that 10,000 Form 471 applications for 2003 have already been filed–ahead of the Feb. 6 filing deadline.