It’s been six months since the “Broadband Data Improvement Act” (part of which includes the “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act”) was signed into law, but the FCC has yet to issue guidance to schools and libraries about how they can comply with this law. Normally, I would not be too concerned about this; however, we all know that when the FCC does issue its guidance, the auditors will arrive and begin to apply that ruling to all current funding commitments (and probably prior year funding commitments as well). Being held accountable retroactively for unpublished standards is not appropriate and it does not further the FCC OIG’s goal of eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.
Unfortunately, more times than not, that is the approach taken during audits.
During the current round of FCC audits, E-rate applicants are asked to prove their CIPA compliance by providing proof of Internet filtering. Auditors routinely ask to see purchase orders, service agreements, and licenses for filtering software. Most auditors even ask for logs of filtered Internet activity. I have even seen auditors take those filtering logs, identify times that students accessed inappropriate content, and draft audit findings indicating that the Internet filtering wasn’t CIPA compliant because it didn’t work 100% of the time. (We were able to educate the auditors on the topic of Internet filtering and the finding never made its way to USAC.)
As we reported on our website, i-SAFE, Inc. has received $300,000 to, among other things, create an “E-rate Certification Compliance Package.” It is within this context that the i-SAFE “E-rate Internet Safety Education Certificate” program has appeared. i-SAFE appears to be a legitimate non-profit foundation that has been aggressively promoting a certificate that will help schools document their compliance with the FCC’s new CIPA standards–the very standards that haven’t yet been released by the FCC. I am glad to see that there are resources available to schools to help them address the need for Internet safety. Our students need that.
However, I am concerned that schools will take this to mean that they are compliant when they may not be, giving them a false sense of security that will result in issues down the road during future audits. And, the fact that i-SAFE has now received earmark funding to report violations of Internet safety to the FBI, local law enforcement, schools and others such as USPTO, RIAA and ASCAP.I have no issues with i-SAFE offering a solution. In fact, I’m glad that they are. But, in order for schools to evaluate if the i-SAFE solution meets their needs, they have to know what their needs are. Which brings us back to the FCC and the lack of guidance. Why have they not given schools this guidance?
We hope that the FCC comes out with the guidance soon. If there are some official ties between the FCC and the i-SAFE program, those should be announced, as well. But above all, the FCC should make it very clear that the new standards will not be applied retroactively during audits.