This week Congress passed and the President signed H.R. 3288 which is a consoidated appropriations bill that encompases many federal agencies including the Federal Communications Commission. There were a few items with E-rate implications that are important for E-rate stakeholders to be aware of.
1) The Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) will only get a one year extension until 12/31/2010. Congress has extended the ADA exemption each year since 2004 and E-rate stakeholders have been trying to get Congress to permanently exempt Universal Service from the ADA. The ADA would require USAC to start treating approved commitments as obligations, rather than when an invoice was presented for payment. Under the ADA, USAC must actually have the money in hand before it can issue a commitment. In October 2004, when the FCC initially decided that USAC should adopt the ADA the funding commitments came to a halt for several months.
2) Universal Service audits which include E-rate beneficiaries have become increasingly more burdensome and costly for school districts to respond to. In the consolidated appropriations bill, Congress is directing the FCC and USAC to “…re-evaluate auditing processes to ensure that audits are more uniform and not unduly onerous‚Ä¶‚Ä¶and that lessons learned from audits are translated into better performance in the future.” Congress expects a report on Universal Service Activity within 60 days.
3) Congress provided a $650,000 earmark for i-SAFE in order for them to market their School Internet Safety packages to school districts. Last year i-SAFE received $300,000 for the same initiative. Funds For Learning is concerned that school districts who purchase their Internet Safety solutions which includes a CIPA compliance certification could have a false sense of security as they have no official connection to the FCC or USAC.
Funds For Learning will continue to monitor Congress and the FCC for any possible E-rate rules and regulations changes tied to Universal Service reform or any E-rate implications tied to the National Broadband Plan that will be released to Congress over the next couple of months.