Idaho Schools Caught in Broadband Tussle


Schools in Idaho are caught in the middle of a broadband expansion project gone awry. As CivSource previously reported, a broadband contract including anchor institutions in Idaho was voided by a judge. That decision raised some questions about the ability of the broadband network in the school system to stay online, now as a deadline for standardized testing gets closer public officials are scrambling to find a solution.

In November, Judge Patrick Owen voided a contract between the state and CenturyLink which the court said was issued illegally. At that time, CenturyLink was in charge of the network for Idaho public schools. That network provides significant distance learning capabilities throughout Idaho’s rural population. CenturyLink didn’t immediately cut off the network, but the state found itself with a very limited timeline for finding a solution.

The contract will likely have to be re-bid, and in January the state brought on former state senator John Goedde to find a solution. A standard re-bid process could take months to complete including a transition in service that could temporarily put local children out of school. Adding to the problem is an existing No Child Left Behind Waiver for Idaho which requires the state to administer its own standardized testing program at a 95% participation rate. Without distance learning and access to computers for students of all types to take the test, new reports suggest that up to $245 million in federal funding could be in jeopardy.

The network is funded on a short-term basis through the end of this month in order to give lawmakers time to figure out what to do. Governor Otter says the state needs to find another $1.6 million to fund the network through the end of the school year but CenturyLink says it is also owed back pay which could put the price tag well over that figure to get to the end of the school year. Spending a few million to save $245 million in federal funding seems like an obvious choice, but still requires a hefty bit of legislative wrangling in the midst of the budget debate.

Also at issue are e-rate funds for the broadband network itself, without a functioning network and because of the lawsuit from November the state’s broadband funding is also in jeopardy. According to Idaho Education News state officials were in closed door meetings throughout the day on Tuesday working on a solution. Watch this space.