• Eligible Services for FY 2009
  • August 18, 2008 | Author: Peter Gutmann
  • Law Firm: Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice - Washington Office
  • The Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of proposed rule making to explore whether certain services should be designated as eligible under the E-Rate program for Funding Year 2009. The Commission’s purpose in updating its Eligible Services List is to encourage schools and libraries to implement advanced telecommunications and information services.

    The specific categories of services which the Commission plans to consider for the FY 2009 ESL are as follows:

    Interconnected VoIP Service – The Commission defines VoIP as a service that (1) enables real-time, two-way voice communications; (2) requires a broadband connection from the user’s location; (3) requires internet protocol-compatible customer premises equipment; and (4) permits users generally to receive and terminate calls on the public switched telephone network. The Commission included interconnected VoIP service as eligible on the past two ESLs but wishes to confirm eligibility for FY 2009. It notes that millions of customers subscribe to interconnected VoIP service and believes that schools and libraries could benefit from the same cost efficiencies and service features. The Commission further notes that over the past several years it has imposed upon VoIP service providers regulatory requirements including 911 emergency calling capability, USF contribution, local number portability and disability access, all in recognition of VoIP’s increasing role. The Commission tentatively concludes that it has become appropriate to process interconnected VoIP service requests as a Priority 1 service. Even so, it questions whether eligible interconnected VoIP services should require certification of Children’s Internet Protection Act (“CIPA”) requirements to block or filter material deemed harmful to minors.

    Filtering Software – Until now, content filtering has been eligible only as an integral part of other eligible components, but now the Commission seeks comment on whether stand-alone filtering software should be funded. The Commission notes that this would be consistent with the legislative history that requires filtering to comply with CIPA.

    Basic Telephone Service – The Commission seeks comment on whether its classification of basic telephone service should extend beyond Centrex service to include such other services as private branch eXchange (PBX), key systems, T1 lines, and interconnected VoIP and primary rate interface (PRI) trunk lines connecting a PBX to the public switched telephone network. The significance of such a change would be to exempt these services from being required to be included in an approved technology plan for funding eligibility. It would also elevate PBX and key systems, like most on-premises equipment, from being considered Priority 2 internal connections to Priority 1, along with other “basic” telephone services.

    Dark Fiber – Beginning in FY 2004, the Commission found dark (unlit) fiber to be ineligible for E-Rate discounts but now wishes to reconsider its decision in light of changes in technology and usage. The Commission continues to question whether any limitations should be adopted to preclude discounts on the cost of dark fiber network build-out when an applicant will not be utilizing the full capacity of that network.

    Other Services – The Commission also seeks comment on whether several individual services should be eligible based upon their use for “educational purposes” by schools and libraries. The Commission also would consider whether each service should be categorized as a telecommunication service or an internet access service, or listed in the miscellaneous category, and whether it should be filtered. The specific services to be considered are text messaging, separately-priced firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spam software, outside network operating systems, scheduling software, telephone broadcast messaging (to allow pre-recorded messages to be sent over phone lines to individuals concerning school delays, closures, emergencies and upcoming activities) and wireless Internet access applications (especially when used away from the library or school property to convey messages having an educational purpose, such as by school bus drivers).

    The Commission has requested that comments be filed 30 days after publication of its notice of proposed rule making in the Federal Register. Replies then will be permitted for an additional 15 days.