Idaho Schools’ Connectivity in Limbo After Judge Voids State Broadband Contract

By Sam Atkeson — February 13, 2015 2 min read
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State officials in Idaho are considering their options for preserving broadband connectivity in schools after a judge Wednesday upheld his November ruling that declared the state’s $60 million Idaho Education Network contract had been awarded illegally.

The state faces two looming deadlines: CenturyLink, one of the broadband vendors, has threatened to cut off access to the network if payment isn’t received by February 22. Additionally, appropriations funding for the broadband system expires on the 28th of the month.

“The state of Idaho has filed for a 14-day stay so we can start looking at our options moving forward,” said John Goedde, former Idaho Senate Education Chairman who was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter last month as point man to resolve the issue.

Goedde had originally sought a supplemental appropriation of $1.6 million to keep the broadband services going through the end of the school year, but paying vendors under the current contract is no longer an option.

“Those contracts are void,” Goedde said. “It’s like they never existed.”

District administrators and technology personnel have been advised to develop contingency plans in case network services are suspended. In many cases, this means applying for their own E-rate funding.

Goedde told Education Week the move is a “prudent step,” but it’s a precaution he hopes states won’t have to rely on. Instead, he believes the state will find an option that would maintain the statewide network.

One such solution is for the Department of Administration to issue an emergency contract, which would likely permit the same vendors to continue services in the short run.

Funding an emergency contract would require legislative approval.

Ongoing Troubles

As Education Week‘s Michelle Davis reported last month, the dispute over Idaho’s broadband contract—which was awarded in 2009 to Education Networks of America, Syringa Networks, and Qwest (now CenturyLink)—has been ongoing for years.

District Judge Patrick Owen ruled last November that the state Department of Administration broke the law when it cut Syringa out of the deal a month after awarding the contract.

Goedde said the state is currently in the process of finding a new longterm contract to take effect in August.

“Whatever we do, whether it be emergency contracts or local districts looking for their own access to the Internet,” he said, “it will be a short avenue to the long-term vision of a new and state of the art network.”

But Kelly Everitt, a communications specialist at the Idaho Department of Education, told Education Week that districts are concerned for what will happen in the short term.

“I don’t think anybody wants to see this go dark,” Everitt said, “especially [the districts] who make heavy use of IEN, and many do.”

The IEN provides high-speed broadband and videoconferencing services to every high school in Idaho. Everitt said those videoconferencing services are especially valuable to smaller districts, allowing them to offer online courses they couldn’t otherwise provide.

Also in question is the state’s delivery of it’s new Common Core state test this spring—administered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—which will require broadband connection.

Testing issues as a result of the loss of connectivity could cost the state millions in federal dollars, the AP reports.

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