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Dear USAC: Please reconsider

How would you like it if you bought a new SONY television and after getting it home and setting it up, you realize that your remote control doesn’t work? Upon further investigation you come to realize that the remote you purchased is not compatible with your new TV. You had purchased a standard Panasonic remote because you were forced to evaluate all other manufacturers’ television equipment even though you really preferred to only have a SONY television set and remote. A few weeks ago, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) announced that the new competitive bidding guidance was that school districts could no longer specify a particular equipment manufacturer on their Form 470, but had to accept bids from resellers of other manufacturers in order to receive comparable solutions or they will get their funding denied for a competitive bidding violation. Using the analogy above, while extreme, USAC is requiring school districts, even though they might be satisfied with SONY to evaluate other manufacturers that might be compatible. While we understand USAC’s intentions, they not only have missed the mark on this one, but are not consistent in practicing their own technology procurement. In recent weeks, on three separate occasions USAC has sought to purchase networking equipment from an identified manufacturer and specifically stated that they will not consider comparable brands. Again, I see nothing inappropriate with this approach, however, at the same time, USAC has a new policy that they believe school districts cannot engage in that type of procurement or risk having their E-rate funds denied. Clearly, USAC understands they can procure a cost effective solution while meeting their technical specifications by only evaluating one particular manufacturer. If they can do it, why are they telling school districts they must evaluate other equipment brands in their technology procurement? What is particularly worrisome is that literally hundreds of Forms 470 have already been posted before the new guidance was issued, which conceivably could mean that all those school districts won’t have the much needed E-rate funds for the telecommunications and networking projects for the upcoming funding year. We have already seen, retroactively, that USAC has denied a school district’s E-rate funding for FY2010 because of this new guidance. The FCC has codified many competitive bidding rules for school districts to follow and it is unclear why USAC decided to issue this new procedure on top of those other regulations. I sincerely hope that USAC reconsiders their position and once again allows school districts the freedom to choose what technology suits their unique needs…especially in light of their own procurement decisions.

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