SECA Year in Review
During Calendar Year 2021, SECA has focused on recommending streamlining measures to E-rate, the newly enacted Emergency Connectivity Fund and new Emergency Broadband Benefit program. Our overarching goal is to make each program’s requirements easily understood and straightforward to comply with, so that applicants can successfully apply and receive funding. For example, one of our key priorities for this year was realized when the FCC and USAC introduced the updated FY 2022 Form 470 drop down menus for Category One and Category Two service requests. The Category One ambiguities regarding Internet service were resolved, and the Category 2 service requests menu now has an option to request maintenance whenever a request for equipment is created. Also, licenses are now automatically included as part of any equipment service request. SECA had sought these improvements to reduce funding denials that were occurring due to applicant confusion and inadvertent omissions to their Form 470 competitive bidding applications.
In January, we filed comments in the Emergency Broadband Benefit proceeding to ensure that low income families with students could benefit from discounted Internet service offerings, and that schools that were subsidizing these costs directly were aware that families could transition to this new program. (SECA EBB Comments - PDF)
Recognizing the critical importance of protecting school and library networks from online attacks, SECA joined with other stakeholder groups in February to file a petition for rulemaking and declaratory relief to allow E-rate funds to pay for K-12 cybersecurity. (Cybersecurity Petition)
SECA also filed jointly with other stakeholder groups a petition for declaratory relief and waivers to allow E-rate funded services to be used for off-campus access for remote learning. We then filed comments on February 16, 2021 to expand upon the public policy reasons underlying the need for FCC action. (Remote Learning Petition)
The main focus of our efforts during this year was on the new $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. Enacted on March 11, 2021, the ECF program pays for laptops, tablets and internet access for remote learning for students and teachers. As we provided support and assistance to applicants across the country to meet the traditional E-rate program filing deadline of March 25, 2021, we pivoted to the ECF program implementation. We submitted comprehensive initial comments on April 5, 2021 with our recommendations. (SECA ECF Comments)
We then refined key proposals after considering the comments of other parties and presented our updated proposals to the FCC via an ex parte meeting on April 21, 2021. (SECA ECF Ex Parte)
Following the FCC’s publication of the draft ECF Order in late April, we met with FCC staff to discuss our feedback (SECA Notice of Ex Parte Mtgs) and joined with coalition members to file an ex parte letter focusing on the key aspects of the draft Order that would benefit from revisions. (Remote Learning Coalition Ex Parte)
The ECF final order and regulations issued on May 11, 2021 adopted numerous positions recommended by SECA. Importantly, the FCC agreed with SECA and other groups to forego imposing a federal competitive bidding requirement for ECF purchases. This measure alone greatly simplified the application process for applicants.
Following the release of the May 11, 2021 Order, SECA continued to communicate with USAC and FCC staff to clarify the details of the new ECF program requirements. We identified areas of uncertainty and ambiguity and offered suggested clarifications. (SECA ECF Questions) We are pleased that in response to SECA and other parties’ inquiries, the FCC issued comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions that filled in additional program requirements to assist applicants.
In July, we worked with coalition groups to jointly file a request for the FCC to extend the gift rule waiver through June 30, 2022 for the E-rate program. (E-rate Gift Rule Waiver Extension Request)
In September, we presented numerous recommendations to USAC for streamlining the review of consortia applications. There is more work to be done that will continue in 2022.
In October, SECA nominated Julie Tritt Schell, the Pennsylvania State E-rate Coordinator, for a second term to serve as a schools’ representative on the Schools and Libraries Committee of the Universal Service Administrative Company. (SECA SL Committee Nomination Ltr) Ms. Schell is the vice-chair of the Schools and Libraries Committee and the Treasurer of the USAC Board. In recognition of her outstanding service, we are delighted she is the only candidate nominated for the seat. She received numerous letters in support of her re-nomination by other stakeholder groups.
Our work in November has focused on resolving an ambiguity in the ECF invoice deadline definition. Applicants with approved funding for equipment that was already received when the form 471 application were at risk for missing their 60-day invoice deadline which was computed from the date of their funding commitment decision letter. Applicants that met this criterion and had an FCDL dated September 24, 2021 could have had an invoice deadline of November 23, 2021. SECA submitted an Emergency Petition for Waiver to ask the FCC to resolve this issue in favor of a uniform invoice deadline of August 29, 2022 for all ECF FRNs approved in the FY 2021-2022 period. On December 2, 2021, the FCC issued an Order, granting SECA’s request to establish August 29, 2022 as the uniform invoice deadline for all ECF FY 2021 FRNs.
Throughout the year, we have continued to expand and enhance the content features of our web site, SECAERATE.net. Anne Perloff, the Maine State E-rate Coordinator, serves as our fastidious webmaster.
SECA’s membership continues to expand. Our 82 members represent forty-two states and two U.S. territories. During the coming year, we will be seeking to add members from the remaining eight states and remaining territories eligible to participate in E-rate.
During Calendar Year 2020, SECA’s work has concentrated on seeking relief and educating the FCC about applicants’ needs stemming from COVID-19. SECA has been at the forefront to seek relief from the FCC on behalf of applicants while also continuing to raise important program issues in need of clarification and reform.
Initially, SECA’s web site has undergone a redesign during COVID-19 and is a repository for FCC orders and appeal decisions which are largely indexed, catalogued and searchable. (https://secaerate.net/) This content is available to the public free of charge as part of our public service mission. A list of all school State E-rate Coordinators, as well as timely updates regarding the E-rate program are available there as well. We intend to continue adding content to the web site so as to assist all stakeholders in locating information about E-rate that may not be available from other online sources.
With respect to our advocacy efforts, we have submitted numerous filings and requests for relief:
On April 23, 2020, SECA submitted a letter requesting the FCC to adopt a more generous policy of granting waivers for late filed Form 471 applications. (SECA Letter to FCC 04.23.2020) We were gratified to see that the FCC indeed has been more lenient and understanding of the need for waivers of the Form 471 filing deadline.
On August 3, 2020, we submitted a letter requesting the FCC to allow applicants to supplement their original FY 2020 applications to obtain more funding for additional on-campus connectivity necessitated by different learning models stemming from COVID-19. (SECA Additional Funding Request 08.03.2020) SECA then conducted a survey and shared the results with the FCC to quantify the impact of the request on the E-rate fund. (SECA Letter Re Addl Internet Cost 08.27.2020) On September 16, the FCC granted our request and opened a special second filing window to grant relief in FY 2020. (September 16 2020 FCC Order)
We also have submitted filings to seek relief from the burdensome requirement to cost allocate a NIF’s usage of shared Category 2 networking equipment (SECA PFR NIF Cost Allocation 1.21.2020) and the perceived limitations of what can be plugged into a switch or structured cabling drops. (SECA Ltr re Cost Allocation 07.17.2020) Further, SECA raised these issues, along with the overlap of the three Category 2 buckets of service, the need to allow schools to use their Category 2 funds for inter-school fiber connections, and the need to fully fund advanced firewall services in its comments to the FY 2021 Draft Eligible Services List. (SECA ESL Comments 08.20.2020, SECA ESL Reply Comments 09.04.2020)
Charter schools and school districts in more than a dozen states were impacted by the narrow definition of administrative authority which had created an impasse related to sharing of Category 2 budgets. To seek a resolution, SECA submitted recommendations to the FCC on how to classify charter schools for purposes of filing for E-rate, most of which were adopted in a recent Public Notice issued by the FCC. (Charter School Ex Parte 09.08.2020, FCC PN 10.14.2020)
SECA also submitted two major filings in the fourth quarter of 2019, regarding the Form 470 dropdown menu recommendations: