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A Culinary Take on USAC Training

TL;DR – EPC turned out to be less than perfect. Stakeholders were disappointed. USAC is willing to take feedback and improve EPC.

On November 10, I had the privilege of attending the USAC E-rate Program Applicant Training in St. Louis, and while there weren’t any surprise revelations or really anything new discussed in regards to the program, I was left with a bad taste in mouth, a labored metaphor, and a little hope. Let me explain.

I never have high expectations for training lunches. Given the differences of palates and dietary preferences of all of the attendees, the food is often your choice of bland fish or bland chicken, a salad, vegetable, and something chocolate. This training was following the same menu tradition and as I was deciding on the fish, I spotted a charcuterie plate with prosciutto, soft cheeses, Kalamata olives, artichokes, and dates. I try to keep to a Mediterranean diet at home, so it was a pleasant surprise to add artichokes and olives to my fish, but what really made me excited were the dates. I rarely have dates and not letting this chance pass by, I grabbed the biggest, wrinkly date I could and headed to my table.

I had picked my way through the vegetable, and salad when I decided it was date time. I picked it up with a fork and bit half of it off in my mouth. It took about .04 seconds for me to recognize that something was definitely not right about this date. The impulse part of my brain was telling me to spit it out on my plate because it was obviously poison, but the logical side of my brain reminded me of the complete strangers sitting around me and that spitting food out of my mouth and onto my plate probably wasn’t the impression I wanted to leave. I kept it in my mouth slowly chewing, trying to identify what I was tasting. Upon swallowing, I inspected the un-eaten half of the date only to discover that it was not a date, but instead a very-wrinkly, very-balsamic, very-glazed, and very-big pearl onion. 

Now, I have nothing against balsamic vinegar, glazes, or onions. In fact, I like all of those items and under different circumstances, I may have actually liked it. But in this instance I was expecting a date and got an onion. It was disappointing, frustrating, and left a bad taste in my mouth. Everything that I ate after that, reminded me of an onion. I picked around the rest of the food, but eventually gave up and went back to the conference hall.

EPC is an onion that was marketed as a date, and it left a bad taste.  

I don’t want to turn this commentary into further criticism of EPC. E-rate stakeholders have made their feelings known, and continued to do so at the training. Stakeholders were expecting a date and got a big bite of bitter onion.

However, what I wasn’t expecting and was hopeful was seeing that USAC recognizes that the date they asked for from the developers, and the date they thought were giving to stakeholders, was an onion – but they are taking feedback and trying to fix it.

As my colleague Brian Stephens observed at the Philadelphia applicant training, I too witnessed a crowd that had no issue letting their thoughts be known on EPC during topic Q&As. And like Brian, I also saw USAC presenters taking feedback and showing interest in improving EPC. 

I would think that it would be difficult to accept criticism on a tool that presumably required a lot of time and money to develop. But instead of doubling-down on the existing tool as-is, they are listening to suggestions and criticisms, trying to fix the issues, and want to make EPC more date-like.

An onion can never be a date, and EPC will never be perfect. But if you have a good balsamic glazed pearl onion, and people are expecting a good balsamic glazed pearl onion, the desire for a date may pass and future applicant trainings may have more praise for USAC’s willingness to admit missteps and strive for improvement, and less complaints about an onion of a tool.   

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