FCC Proposes Central E-Rate Bidding Portal

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The FCC is proposing a big change to how it hands out E-rate broadband subsidies, the money that goes to schools and libraries to help pay for advanced telecommunications, money that has become increasingly important during the pandemic as remote learning became a necessity.

According to a draft proposal teed up for a vote at the December open meeting, the commission is proposing to require broadband companies to submit bids for providing service to those schools and libraries to the Universal Service Fund Administrator through a bidding portal, as the FCC's inspector general recommended to Congress--and is seeking comment on how to do that, including on whether to require applicants (schools and libraries) to submit more bidding documentation than is captured in that portal.

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The FCC is also proposing to: 1) "to establish time frames on when applicants should be able to review the bids that service providers submit in the portal" and 2) "to require applicants to submit bidding selection documentation, such as bid comparison matrices and related contract documents, at the time applicants request funding for eligible services." 

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The commission said the reasons for the change are several: "streamlining program requirements for applicants and service providers, strengthening program integrity, preventing improper payments, and decreasing the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse."

The move is prompted in part by a GAO report on the fraud risk management in the E-rate program and the opportunity for applicants to misrepresent their compliance with competitive bidding requirements, misrepresentations that could get past USAC and the FCC because they don't have the kind of direct access to bidding that a portal would give them.

Rosenworcel almost certainly feels she has the bipartisan votes to pass the item in the currently politically deadlocked FCC or she would not have scheduled a meeting vote. Certainly eliminating waste, fraud and abuse is high on Republican's list. ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.