Judge Voids Sweetheart Broadband Contract After Idaho Shells Out Millions

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The future of the Idaho Education Network hangs in the balance in the shadow of a ruling from a 4th District Court judge who said Idaho broke the law in its award of a broadband contract.

When Syringa Network lost a bid to be a broadband provider for Idaho's statewide network to link public schools and libraries—in spite of the fact that Syringa's bid was the least expensive and most technically proficient—Syringa sued Idaho, alleging that then-Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney had "blackballed" Syringa from state contracts. Instead, Idaho granted a joint $60 million deal to Education Networks of America and Qwest. The State of Idaho tried to later amended the deal, cutting Syringa out of the picture and giving all of the contract to ENA solely.

It was later learned that two of ENA's top Idaho staffers had direct ties to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who announced the ENA deal. Garry Lough, a top ENA official, was an aide to Luna in 2007 and Mike Vance, an ENA account services manager, served on Luna's campaign staff in 2006. Additionally, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's campaign finance director, Martin Bilbao, was a former ENA staffer.

And now 4th District Court Judge Patrick Owen says that the Department of Administration broke Idaho's procurement law. And in spite of the DOA attempts to backpedal on the deal by amending the contract, Owen said the state's "efforts to salvage these void contracts were futile and of no effect." The bottom line: The contract is void in spite of the fact that Idaho has paid ENA millions of dollars since 2009 and has continued to receive federal funds to help subsidize those costs.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Idaho Legislature voted to keep funds going to the Idaho Education Network, but only until February 2015. Additionally, the state has paid a private attorney more than $750,000 to defend the state in the case.