Idaho is joining West Virginia on the list of troubled broadband projects. State legislators may be on the hook for millions of dollars in payments to the network vendor after federal payments were halted pending an investigation.
The Idaho Education Network is a broadband network that connects all Idaho high schools to the internet. The network is the result of federal broadband expansion efforts and money from those programs goes to pay the vendor – Nashville, Tenn.-based Education Networks of America to operate it. However, those funds have stopped coming because of an investigation into how the original contract was bid out.
According to the Idaho Statesman, the “Federal Communications Commission said a March 2013 Idaho Supreme Court decision raised questions about the whether the state’s original award of the contract to ENA and its partners, including CenturyLink, complied with procurement rules, and the money has been held up ever since.” Now, local lawmakers are on the hook for millions in payments owed to the vendor.
The operations contract was extended through 2019 in order to get needed upgrades. However, without federal funding that extension is only serving to increase the pain on local officials and budgets. Notably, the committee in charge of contract extensions was never consulted about the new agreement.
Lawmakers seem to be at a loss about what they owe and when, a situation which looks similar to West Virginia where legislators there were generally unclear about the project at all until federal funds stopped flowing in. Taken together, this is a troubling trend for state broadband projects.
The federal government is taking up the issue if spectrum in hearings this week. Depending on that decision broadband may become more competitive in the US, which will be a positive change for the procurement officials that are focused on contract options.