The plan for a statewide broadband network serving Idaho schools is now up in the air after a judge voided a five-year-old contract for the service on Monday. The $60 million contract was at the center of a contractor challenge led by Syringa Networks which is calling for a re-bid of the contract. However, that challenge may put students in limbo during the middle of the school year.
A number of students in Idaho take distance learning courses which rely on broadband access to get to school, the loss of a service contract may mean those students find themselves without a connection. Officials from a number of state agencies held a meeting about the issue yesterday and are reported to be working on a bridge plan to maintain access for students for the rest of the year.
The current contract was between the state and CenturyLink, which Judge Patrick Owen says was issued illegally. That contract is now void, but the network didn’t go down when the ruling was handed down, so for the time being students still have access.
At issue is the original contract which was awarded to both CenturyLink, its partner Verizon and ENA and its partner Syringa. According to the complaint, CenturyLink and Verizon amended the contract to cut Syringa out of the deal which prompted the lawsuit. The company cited unfair process in its complaint. With the court ruling, the contract will likely have to be re-bid, although certain federal matching funds for the project may no longer be part of the plan because of the lawsuit.
An article in the Spokesman-Review notes that a few of the players involved are campaign contributors as well. ENA donated over $18,000 to Governor Butch Otter since 2006 and CenturyLink has given $35,000. CenturyLink’s donations came through its political action committee – CenturyLink Idaho PAC. Syringa donated $10,000 to Otter opponents in the last two elections.