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WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2022 — Respondents to the Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory proposal to require Internet service providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal have expressed concern that the proposal would unnecessarily complicate the process.
The FCCs E-Rate program complements schools and libraries by ensuring affordable telecommunications and broadband services through the Universal Service Fund. Earlier this year, the FCC released a proposal this would “streamline program requirements for applicants and service providers, strengthen program integrity…and reduce the risk of fraud, waste and abuse”.
The proposal suggests setting up a central document repository, called a bidding portal, through which Internet service providers would submit bids to the program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company, rather than directly to national and local candidates. Currently, libraries and schools advertise that they are looking for services, and service providers apply directly to these institutions.
With the passage of this proposal, applicants would be required to submit bidding documentation that would allow applicants to compare competing bids and USAC would establish time limits for applicants to review bids submitted by vendors. .
The proposal responds to a Government Accountability Office September 2020 Report which addressed what the GAO considers to be the primary fraud risks of the E-Rate program. He pointed out that e-tariff participants could easily misrepresent self-certification statements by violating bidding rules or processes. These violations could occur without the knowledge of the Commission or USAC because they do not have direct access to tender information.
The GAO suggested that allowing USAC direct access to obtain and monitor tender information would improve security and strengthen program controls.
Proposal widely criticized by CoSN and directors of educational technology
However, the response to the proposal has been largely negative, with commentators concerned that changing the process would unnecessarily complicate a system that, according to Verizonalready promotes fair and open bidding on E-Rate contracts.
The School Networking Consortiumthe National Association of Directors of Educational Technology and the National Association of School Boards asserted that the Commission’s previous reliance on national and local procurement requirements has been successful and has not led to an excessive amount of fraud and abuse, negating the need to update the process.
According to National Association of Telecommunications Agents and Advisors in his comment to the FCC.
“A bidding portal would interfere with existing state and local bidding and procurement processes, which would likely cause significant problems for applicants and may force some to drop out of the E-Rate program” , reads the NATOA report.
Setting up a national E-rate tender portal would be “unnecessary, cumbersome and will increase complexity rather than simplify the E-rate programme”, agreed South Dakota Department of Education in his statement.
Changes at national or local level
Since the FCC’s announcement in December, the proposed changes have been the subject of much debate. John HaringtonCEO of Funds for Learning, wrote in April that changes to the e-rate would be detrimental, saying sourcing decisions are best made locally, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” system.
Otherwise, John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said in December that the proposal would weigh on applicants, despite the potential benefits of eliminating at least some forms of fraud. Windhausen claimed that there was not enough evidence to show that a new portal was needed.
However, the proposal was not universally rejected. In a comment filed last week, United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Divisionwhich is responsible for enforcing antitrust laws, voiced support for the proposal saying it would “enhance the FCC’s Office of Inspector General’s ability to detect and deter fraud in the E-Rate program “.
The DOJ added that the update would allow for stronger law enforcement, including investigation and prosecution of antitrust and related violations that occur during E-Rate purchases. “All responsive service providers and candidates are able to take the extra step,” the DOJ said in response to criticism citing excessive burden.
The proposal remains under review at the FCC.