While the FCC does offer some leniency towards infractions of procedural rules, the FCC will rarely provide any relief when an applicant misses a Form 471 or appeal deadline. However, when an applicant or service provider misses a procedural deadline that is not codified by FCC rule, they have a much better chance that an appeal may be granted. Two FCC appeal decisions that were disseminated in the last week highlight this point.
The E-rate process can be confusing at times and deadlines often shift depending on when funding commitment decision letters are issued. However, there are hard and fast deadlines which are strictly enforced, namely the Form 471 deadline and deadlines to file appeals. While the FCC does offer some leniency towards infractions of procedural rules, the FCC will rarely provide any relief when an applicant misses a Form 471 or appeal deadline. However, when an applicant or service provider misses a procedural deadline that is not codified by FCC rule, they have a much better chance that an appeal may be granted.
Two FCC appeal decisions that were disseminated in the last week highlight this point.
The FCC released an appeal decision whereby 49 appeals were granted when a Form 472 or Form 474 invoicing deadline was missed. The deadline was missed for a variety of reasons including a lack of understanding of the invoicing process, staff turnover and clerical/ministerial errors that were not able to be corrected by the form deadline.
In its reasoning the FCC stated:
“…As the Bureau found in the Canon-McMillan Order, we find that complete rejection of these invoices is not warranted, given that the applicants missed a USAC procedural deadline and did not violate a Commission rule…we note that those tasked with working on E-rate applications are typically school administrators, technology coordinators, teachers, and librarians who may have little experience with the invoice requirements for the E-rate program. This may be particularly true of staff at small school districts or libraries…”
While the FCC has been willing to grant appeals when certain mistakes are made in the application or invoicing process, the FCC is unwilling to grant appeals where deadlines are missed to file an appeal. The FCC notified 104 applicants that their appeals for waiver of the 60 day appeal deadline rule were denied. The FCC can waive their own rules when special circumstances arise, however, the FCC made clear that misunderstanding of this particular deadline or staff turnover does not rise to the level where the FCC will grant a waiver when an applicant misses the appeal deadline.
In the appeal decision the FCC stated:
“…Filing deadlines for appeals are needed to provide finality in the decision-making process. Because the E-rate program has a cap of $2.25 billion each year, USAC and the Commission must accurately determine the number of funding requests that will be able to be granted in any given year. While USAC maintains a reserve fund for appeals, the amount of money reserved in that fund is generally based on the appeals that can be filed within the 60-day deadline. If the Commission allowed applicants to appeal decisions significantly after the deadline, it would be difficult to estimate the amount of money that should be held in the reserve fund. The reserve fund could be increased; however, that funding would have to come from the same $2.25 billion allocated for the program and would therefore effectively take money away from applicants that had followed the rules or timely filed appeals….and that financial need does not meet the requirement of special circumstances that warrant a waiver of the Commission’s rules….”
See Funds For Learning’s E-rate Resources, which provides further information on the E-rate process and provides checklists for the invoicing process.