FCC Waives Gift Rules During Pandemic
On March 18, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission released an Order waiving the E-rate and Rural Health Care’s gift rules to allow “participants to solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak.” In its Order, the Commission notes:
We note that this waiver is limited to offerings made by service providers and solicited or accepted by E-Rate eligible entities on behalf of students, teachers, or patrons while schools and libraries prepare for closures or remain closed as a direct result of COVID-19, regardless of funding year. In taking this action, we find relevant that the underlying purpose of our gift rules, to ensure the integrity of the competitive bidding process, is not likely to be frustrated, particularly where competitive bidding for funding year 2019 is complete and nearly complete for funding year 2020. We also balance the need for connectivity for students and library patrons during the coronavirus outbreak with our overarching need to protect the program against waste, fraud, and abuse.
The FCC also notes that program participants will be required “to retain records documenting the services, equipment, or other things of value that they receive pursuant to the waivers described above and consistent with the document retention periods applicable to each program” and that the Commission “will continue to aggressively pursue instances of waste, fraud, or abuse under our own procedures and in cooperation with law enforcement agencies.”