continues to swirl around the contracts
that built the Idaho Education Network
, lawmakers have pulled the plug on the broadband network designed to give Internet access to schools across the state.
Legislators approved emergency funding Feb. 17 for school districts to search for new broadband vendors, the Spokesman-Review reports
IEN provided Internet services that linked every high school in Idaho. But the state's $60 million contract with Education Networks of America and Qwest Communications (now CenturyLink) was successfully challenged
in court by Syringa Networks, which alleged that it had been illegally cut out of the bid. Despite the then-ongoing court fight, now-Director Teresa Luna—sister of former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna—extended the contract through 2019. Meanwhile, e-rate funds from a federal telephone tax that were meant to pay for three-quarters of the cost of the service were cut off in 2013 amid questions about the legality of the contact between the state and broadband suppliers.
Tuesday, lawmakers in the Idaho Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved emergency measures, including calling on current Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra to supervise $3.6 million in payments for Idaho schools to seek out and secure broadband access through the end of the school year. School districts will be required to make at least three bids for broadband service, but current vendors will be allowed to bid for individual school district contracts. The Department of Administration will also shift $5 million in unspent IEN funding to the state's general fund to help cover new funding Ybarra is disbursing to school districts across the state.
The JFAC appropriations bill, however, still requires majority votes in the Idaho House and Senate, as well as the governor's signature, before it becomes law.
According to Idaho Ed News
, the network could be disconnected as early as this weekend.