It might be time to adopt a new abbreviation for the Federal Communications Commission. Instead of calling the agency the FCC, a more descriptive moniker might be FUD.
No, not as in Elmer. The surname of that hapless hunter has two “d’s.” Elmer Fudd, according to Looney Tunes, “is the poor little dupe with the lightbulb head (with nary a watt in it) who is the volunteer foil for Bugs Bunny’s lightning antics.”
Although some snide critics contend a certain appointed official might bear an uncanny resemblance to that oval-faced bumpkin, there’s nothing endearing or funny about the FCC’s latest adventures.
No, the altered abbreviation might be warranted because the agency these days seems capable of generating little other than Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) — especially when it comes to the eRate, as we chronicle in the lead Front Page story by Associate Editor Cara Branigan and as we explain with our in-depth “eRate Survival Guide” beginning on Page 39.
To be fair, the FUD apparently rolled down from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That office reportedly ordered the eRate agency to switch from its traditional process of issuing funding commitments based on anticipated income from tax receipts and conservative investments to a far more stringent cash-in-hand policy.
Am I the only one who finds it slightly ironic that the administration that has run up the largest federal deficit in American history suddenly finds fiscal religion when it comes to the eRate? If all of Washington were required to make funding commitments under the new eRate rules, this government would screech to a halt so fast that bureaucrats and politicos all over town would be pitched out of their seats head first.
But be that as it may, the eRate agency is no longer allowed to calculate the revenue it expects to receive and then issue funding letters based on that anticipated revenue. This is akin to saying you can’t sign a year’s lease on a rental unit until you actually have a year’s rent money in your pocket–never mind that you know exactly where the money is coming from and when. Such a policy might be attractive in the abstract, but it’s impractical in real life.
School districts commonly obtain Tax Anticipation Notes from banks so they can authorize operations that begin before tax receipts actually are collected. This enables school districts to smooth out their cash flow and level out peaks and valleys in the procurement process. Managing operations based on revenue anticipation is not child’s play, but it’s something school districts from coast to coast do all the time.
But who knows, maybe the OMB’s eRate order is the harbinger of a new era of fiscal responsibility in Washington. Even if that were the case (and I use the subjunctive advisedly here), why the surprise?
When regulations about auto emissions or investment banking are issued, you can reliably predict their actual implementation date will be years in the future. Why did this eRate switch come out of the blue? And why did it have to take effect instantly, just as school districts were starting a brand-new school year and trying to organize their 2005-2006 technology plans?
Well, apparently FCC Chairman Michael Powell knew all about it. There were “various letters of exchange all through this process,” he says. Letters when, about what, from whom, to whom? Powell doesn’t say.
The Senate committee overseeing the FCC and the eRate seemed never to have heard of these letters or the impending implemenation. Even the two Democratic commissioners on the FCC itself claim they were blind-sided. Certainly, the move has come as a shock to educators and education advocates all over the country. At a minimum, the handling of all this doesn’t speak well for an agency whose middle name is “Communications.”
Something there is that doesn’t love the eRate. Certain elements in Washington and beyond have been trying to kill it for years. Perhaps these would-be eRate assassins finally have given up trying to snuff out the program. Perhaps they’ve decided the best they can do is torture the eRate until it’s a sad, frail shell of its former self. Maybe they think we’ll abandon it if the pain grows too great.
It that’s their plan, they’ve got their work cut out for them. The eRate has allies.
One such appears to be Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz. He seems to be emerging as a champion of the eRate. McCain has experienced torture for real, and he knows how to survive it. Saving this vital program so central to our ability to prepare students for the challenges ahead should prove a much easier mission.
But it’s not a job for leaders alone. The fight for the eRate will take a brave band of brothers and sisters. Don’t wait to be drafted. Protecting the eRate is a mission for an all-volunteer army, and it’s time for us to enlist.