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My main interest in politics is on educational matters and science.  So when I read the following piece I was rather irritated.

This article talks about a program established in 1996, that seeks to provide schools with access to the Internet.  The law requires that telecom companies give schools access at rates that are as low as other comparable entities with the same services in the same market.  So, essentially, that schools are not being ripped off.  But as the article states:

A decade after the program started, AT&T was still not training its employees about the mandatory low rates, which are supposed to be set at the lowest price offered to comparable customers. Lawsuits and other legal actions in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York have turned up evidence that AT&T and Verizon charged local school districts much higher rates than it gave to similar customers or more than what the program allowed.

AT&T has charged some schools up to 325 percent more than it charged others in the same region for essentially the same services. Verizon charged a New York school district more than twice as much as it charged government and other school customers in that state.

That's bad enough, but that isn't what really got my attention.  The law means nothing if it is not enforced.  And how you go about enforcing it is as important as the law itself.  The article indicates that the FCC sought no reimbursement nor penalties for any uncovered violations.  But even that is not the worst.

The FCC itself doesn't run the program to oversee the law.  That job is done by a nonprofit company named Universal Service Administration Co. (USAC), which employs several former telecom execs.  Additionally:

The back-office work for USAC is actually performed by another company, Solix, based in New Jersey. Solix is owned by fewer than 200 investors, some of which are small telecom companies, and Solix employees also include ex-telecom industry executives, according to public records and John Parry, the chief executive officer of Solix.
This alone doesn't indicate anything wrong.  But it does have the appearance of a conflict of interest.  I don't understand why you'd want to have a company doing the regulation job of the government, unless the purpose of that company was to deflect the teeth of the law away from the target of those regulations.  Effectively, to shield the company from discovered violations.  Indeed:
USAC provides training to phone companies on how to comply with E-Rate rules, and its training materials from 2001 through 2011 are available on its website. Not once is lowest corresponding price mentioned in those materials. Indeed, in 2010, the telecom industry publicly complained to the FCC that USAC has not "provided any guidance" on the rule.
So, the telecom companies can't comply with the law because the company in charge of oversight (that they have connections to) doesn't think to tell them how to comply with it?  Given the possible conflict of interest, that seems highly suspect.

Have this program managed and overseen by the government, not a private company.  That way, when overcharging schools is discovered, we can be confident someone knowingly broke the law, hold them accountable, and demand changes if they need to be made.  Instead of this:

What USAC and the FCC have done is penalize schools that uncover overcharging.
I think this is an article everyone here ought to read.  So if you've not already done so, please do now.

Originally posted to Paul Rogers on Mon May 21, 2012 at 01:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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