Let’s step back and reassess the necessity of having an E-rate portal. This week, FCC Chairman Pai sent a letter to Chris Henderson, CEO of USAC, to outline his many concerns about USAC’s E-rate Productivity Center, as well as USAC’s alleged lack of transparency with applicants, service providers and even the FCC who oversees the program. According to Chairman Pai, the original cost estimate of EPC was $19 million and now nearly $30 million has been spent on it.
We are all familiar with EPC’s structural flaws and the serious technical issues that continue to plague the system, causing schools and libraries considerable challenges in submitting their applications in a compliant and timely manner. Chairman Pai stated that he has concerns the overall cost to create a functioning E-rate portal will balloon to $60 million, triple the original cost estimate. This is just mind numbing and unacceptable. $19 million dollars was too much to pay for a broken system, let alone $30 million, or even $60 million.
As FCC Chairman Pai noted, all workable FY 2016 Form 471s were supposed to have gone out by September 1, 2016; but many of the funding letters have been significantly delayed, all because of issues tied to EPC.
Interestingly, in the midst of all of this frustration in FY2016 and FY2017, the SLD managed to disburse $2.54 billion for FY 2015. This is the most the E-rate program has ever provided to applicants and it is a success story. While not without some challenges, the commitments and disbursements from FY 2015 were done far more effectively… and without the EPC!
After the FY 2017 filing window closes on May 11, 2017, it is time for USAC and the FCC to have a serious conversation about the E‚Äêrate portal. To start with, let’s go back to the electronic filing system that was used pre-EPC. And then maybe let’s consider establishing an e-filing system like the one Funds For Learning proposed in 2014.
Whatever we do, let’s move away from EPC. The E-rate community cannot afford any longer to throw good money after bad. The cost, in dollars, time, and lost opportunities, is too high.