Universal Service Fund Wants Automation Tools to Help Bring Broadband to Communities in Need

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The corporation that manages the fund for the Federal Communications Commission is looking for a contractor to help automate its manual, time-consuming data verification process.

The not-for-profit, quasi-governmental corporation charged with funding internet access in needy and underserved communities is looking for some robotic process automation tools to ease the job of its verification team and reduce errors from rote, manual data entry.

Under the oversight of the Federal Communications Commission, the Universal Service Administrative Corporation manages four programs designed to fund broadband infrastructure in needy communities, such as low-income consumers, rural health care providers and schools and libraries. The corporation manages the Universal Service Fund, which funds infrastructure improvements and subsidies to encourage private sector carriers to serve those communities.

The RPA tools sought in a solicitation posted to beta.SAM.gov will be used in support of the High Cost program, which, “provides support for connectivity in rural and underserved communities.”

But ensuring funds go to the proper infrastructure programs requires hard data on needs and access, and for someone—or something—to verify that data is accurate.

Currently, the High Cost Verification Team is tasked with manually verifying the accuracy of data submitted by carriers, including location data for new deployments, annual location data reports, quarterly pretesting performance data and annual test performance data. The team gets this data through regular submissions from carriers, though often they end up having to reach out for additional information, “requesting supporting documentation that is both structured and unstructured in nature, applying a fail or pass status to geo-coded locations and managing varying procedures and personnel,” the RFP states.

“The location validation and verification results coupled with annual certification data support continued carrier funding eligibility,” the solicitation states. The verification team also does “’limited’ financial data audits,” ensuring the right forms are submitted to the FCC, though not checking the accuracy of the information therein.

All of these tasks are done manually, and most are extremely detail-oriented and time-consuming.

“The majority of the overall verification process is manual and labor intensive, resulting in long cycle times for each process step,” the RFP states. “Metrics and statistical reporting are also manual processes, contributing to lengthy timelines and increasing the risk of user error.”

To that end, the solicitation requests a contractor with deep knowledge of RPA tools and solutions. The tools ultimately developed through the contract should be able to accomplish five tasks:

  • Generate statistically significant samples based on carrier/state/study area code combinations and then notify stakeholders external parties—carriers—indicating that the samples are ready for them to provide evidence.
  • Automate large volume email transactions and metrics generation that are currently done manually.
  • Populate verification tracking documents and workflow tracking—milestone monitoring, process questionnaire, announcement letters, verification status and project updates.
  • Perform automated verifications of evidence submitted by carriers in numerous formats—including GIS data.
  • Synthesize data to find patterns and commonalities to arrive at an optimal process design and store failure rates by carrier/year/fund.

While the corporation is not technically a government entity, USAC operates under the FCC and follows most of the contracting requirements under the Federal Acquisition Regulations, including being “compliant with the Federal Information Security Management Act security requirements as a system managing federal funds and interfacing with Department of Treasury Systems,” the solicitation states.

If cloud services are involved, the vendor must also be accredited by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP—“or equivalent authorization”—at the moderate level.

The contract will run for one year, with three one-year add-on options.

Bids are due by 11 a.m. Jan. 4.

USAC issued a request for information in August ahead of the formal solicitation.

Aaron Boyd is an award-winning journalist currently serving as senior editor for technology and events at Nextgov.

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