States

Idaho Broadband Fiasco Leads to State Official’s Resignation

By Audrey Armitage — March 23, 2015 2 min read

It appears the legal problems that prompted the dismantling of the Idaho Education Network, which provided broadband service to schools across the state, has led to the resignation of a key state official.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the resignation of Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna after this year’s legislative session. The governor will appoint an interim director following her resignation.

“I admire Teresa’s tenacity and commitment to doing the right thing,” Gov. Otter said in a press release. “I am proud to call her a friend.”

The governor’s office did not provide a reason for Luna’s resignation. However, her resignation comes after the dismantling of the Idaho Education Network (IEN), following a judge’s ruling in November that the statewide broadband network’s $60 million contract for services was essentially illegal.

The dispute over Idaho’s broadband contract—which was initially awarded in 2009 to Education Networks of America, Syringa Networks, and Qwest (now CenturyLink)—has been simmering for years. When the Idaho Department of Administration ultimately left Syringa out of the deal, the company filed a lawsuit alleging that the state violated procurement procedures when awarding the contract and Idaho’s Fourth District Court Judge Patrick Owen ruled in the company’s favor.

Schools districts’ ability to maintain broadband access was in jeopardy after the ruling, because the IEN provided high-speed broadband and videoconferencing services to every high school in the state. With one vendor threatening to cut off service if payment isn’t received and state funding for the broadband network set to expire, legislators scrambled to pass a stopgap spending bill to allow districts to independently secure broadband contracts that will last through the end of the school year.

However, this measure only provides a short-term fix, and the question of whether Idaho will return to a statewide network or continue providing funds for districts to negotiate independent contracts remains unresolved.

Luna’s predecessor, Mike Gwartney, was primarily responsible for crafting the voided contracts, and Luna was named as someone who may have known about problems with the contracts, according to a claim against the state filed by ENA.

When legal questions arose about the contracts in 2013, federal E-rate payments for the network were temporarily suspended. But Luna still extended the contracts through 2019 without informing legislators, according to the Idaho Statesman.

The resignation will have no impact on the future of Idaho school districts’ future broadband access, Jon Hanian, Gov. Otter’s spokesman, said in an email.

Luna declined to comment.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.