[NHDOE-ETNews] USAC’s E-Rate Funding Tools

Freeda, Stanley Stanley.Freeda at doe.nh.gov
Mon Jun 8 13:10:48 EDT 2015

Today on the ETNews Listserv
ITEM:  USAC’s E-Rate Funding Tools

The simple FY 2014 versus FY 2015 comparison noted above relies on funding data available on the USAC website.  USAC provides two basic sources of funding data, the Data Retrieval Tool<http://www.slforms.universalservice.org/DRT/Default.aspx> (“DRT”) and the Funding Commitment Tool<http://www.usac.org/sl/tools/commitments-search/Default.aspx>.  Both require some explanation for proper use.

Data Retrieval Tool (“DRT”):

The DRT is the best source of accurate funding data.  It is updated daily, including new funding data as of the release date of each funding wave.  The DRT contains data on all applications — funded, not funded, and pending — back to FY 1998.  It contains data on funding requests, commitments, and disbursements.  The biggest drawback to the DRT is that the data is available only in spreadsheet formats requiring separate searches by funding year or by state, BEN, or SPIN.  DRT data is also spread out into separate files over 56 “states” (including Washington DC and US territories) and 17 funding years — currently a total of 952 files.

Except for a few days at the end of the application window (to reduce demand on the USAC system), E-Rate Central downloads all these files after each business day to create an integrated funding database.  Easy access to state and applicant data, providing 17 years of data in an easy to read format (with drill-down capability to the FRN level) is available using the Funding Quick Search Tool available through the State Information<http://e-ratecentral.com/us/default.asp> section of our website.

The Form 471 for FY 2015 has a number of additional fields containing Item 21 and other information that is not available in the DRT.  Access to this additional FY 2015 data is available, albeit with some difficulty, using USAC’s Download Form 471 Information<https://slweb.universalservice.org/form471publicdatatool/app> tool.  The extra data is presented in seven separate tables on a state-by-state basis.  Its use for the average applicant is limited.

Funding Commitment Tool:

The primary use of the Commitment tool is to review funding wave approvals by state.  The tool has been approved for general use this year, but still needs to be used with care.  Indeed, the tool displays a warning reading, in part: “It is not intended to be used to aggregate data at the state, regional or national levels, as it will overstate those totals.”  This is only partially accurate; in some cases it may now understate funding.

In past years, the Commitment tool data was apparently based on funding reported to members of Congress on a district-by-district basis.  Since some Congressional district and applicant (school district or library system) geographic boundaries overlap, some funding reports were duplicated.  Because of the duplication, the tool could significantly overstate total funding on a funding year, wave, state, or even applicant basis.

As of 2015, USAC has eliminated most of the duplication in the tool (for both FY 2015 and earlier years).  However, there are still bugs — including one apparent over-correction.  Based on our analysis, here’s a more detailed warning:

  1.  On a total funding year basis, the tool provides a National Summary, a National Analysis by Applicant Type, and a National Analysis by Service and Discount Band.  These totals are clearly overstated.  Total FY 2015 funding as of Wave 3, for example, is shown in the tool’s summary as $372 million.  Actual funding, as reflected in the DRT and as reported in USAC’s most recent News Brief, is $267 million.  The difference may reflect the duplicate Congressional reporting or other factors — and may, or may not, be considered an error that needs to be corrected.  We consider the tool’s national totals to be unusable at present.
  2.  Individual wave totals, and the state components of these waves, are closer to the actual funding — but are actually slightly lower.  In this case, again as of Wave 3 for FY 2015, the funding shown for the three waves adds up to $266 million, not the actual $267 million.  As best we can determine, this difference reflects a bug in the individual applicant wave information reporting system that deletes certain FRNs if, within a given application and service type, there are duplicate amounts.  For example, if an application included three approved FRNs for the same Category 2 equipment, one for each of three schools, the Commitment’s tool would show only one approved FRN for that amount.  Given that this situation doesn’t arise often, it is enough to be noticeable in the wave totals (and certainly at the applicant funding level).  We expect that this bug will be corrected.

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Stan Freeda
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