Idaho Schools May Have to Seek Own Internet Providers

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The Idaho State Department of Education, the Idaho Education Network and the state association for education technology have recommended that school districts within the state seek broadband internet service providers for the coming financial year. Their letter of request comes in as a safety net after the state’s aim of supplying broadband services to public schools came to a standstill in November.

The authorities have yet not confirmed if the broadband service program has been permanently terminated, writes Bill Roberts of The Idaho Statesman.

“We want to be proactive about ensuring that Idaho school districts are held harmless no matter the outcome of legal or legislative action.”

The service scheme was halted when 4th District Judge Patrick Owen ruled the $60 million broadband contract that accused the program of being illegal, after Syringa Networks sued Idaho in December 2009 for illegally stripping it of work included in the contract and giving it instead to CenturyLink and Education Networks of America. Upon deeming the contract illegitimate, the Judge also mentioned the likelihood of contractors having to repay millions of dollars to the state and federal government. Attempts to appeal the ruling are still ongoing.

About 70 percent costs of the project relied heavily on funding from the Federal Communications Commission, which was generated through monthly fees on cell phone and landline bills. This source was cut off in 2013 due to the legal dispute and was replaced by the Legislature, which approved $11.4 million to keep the service running – an amount that is estimated to be depleted by February 2015). The verdict has now forced the Legislature to inject more funds into the program, writes Nathan Brown of Magic Valley.

The state approved broadband Internet service equipped school districts in Idaho with a variety of facilities including distance learning, writing papers for classes and researching.

Former Senate Education Chairman John Goedde has been hired by Governor Butch Otter to co-operate with legislators and find a solution to the problem. As the newly appointed educational advisor, Goedde is contracted to be paid $4,000 a month.

Both Otter and Goeede strongly support the scheme and have lauded it for introducing new classes in schools where finance for teachers is scarce.

According to Goedde, persuading the federal government to restore $500,000 a month in funding is an essential aim.

“There is no question in my mind that it is fixable.”

Democrats and Republicans involved have both agreed that the state’s education broadband contract with CenturyLink needs to be rebid.

House Minority Leader John Rusche has asked to carry out the procedure “legally and in an open manner”.

Legislators have made it a goal to ensure uninterrupted broadband service to schools and discussed steps to raise the oversight over future state contracts. They have also taken measures to enable Idaho’s schools to feed funds into the program themselves, in the worst case scenario.

Until the contract is reconsidered and federal finance sources are once again made available, the scheme could cost around $10 million per year to keep it functional. Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has supported the idea of rebidding the contract and resuscitating the broadband program.

“We need to make sure things like this don’t happen in the future.”

He also claimed that the state Department of Education is working on guidelines for schools to apply for more e-rate money from the Legislation.