Judge tosses state broadband contract

In a ruling that could have key implications for broadband support in colleges — and a multimillion-dollar price tag tag for  Idaho taxpayers — a District Court judge has tossed out Idaho’s $ 60 million school broadband contract.

The disputed Idaho Education Network contract was declared void late Monday afternoon by 4th District Court judge Patrick Owen.

Owen sharply criticized the state Department of Administration for continuing to consider to salvage the 2009 contract, soon after carving Syringa Networks out of the deal to provide broadband to substantial colleges across the state.

“An agreement produced in violation of the state’s procurement law can’t be fixed or cured,” Owen wrote in his ruling.

The ruling raises a host of questions about broadband in the substantial schools — and a technique Gov. Butch Otter touted extensively for the duration of the fall campaign, which culminated a week in the past in his election to a third phrase in office:

Ultimately, who pays for broadband service? Based on Monday’s ruling, the expenses for broadband could fall to the state, and its taxpayers.

For many many years, the state utilized “e-rate” dollars — a surcharge from cell mobile phone and landline bills — to cover three-fourths of the Idaho Education Network’s expenses.

But a Federal Communications Commission contractor place Idaho’s payments on hold in March 2013, since of the contract dispute. State officials have expressed self-confidence that they would prevail in court, which would convince the FCC contractor, the Universal Service Administrative Organization, to free up Idaho’s e-price payments.

That seems unlikely, in light of Monday’s ruling. And it implies, in essence, that Idahoans are paying out twice for school broadband — through services alterations, and by way of a continuing state bailout of the Idaho Schooling Network.

What has been the expense to taxpayers? For starters, $ eleven.four million. That is how considerably the 2014 Legislature shelled out — soon after the Division of Administration ultimately disclosed the e-rate payment mess last January.

The $ 11.4 million was designed to cover the network’s 2013-14 costs and keep the network online via February 2015. That timing was deliberate, and developed to enable the 2015 Legislature to revisit the situation.

But now, a lot more unpaid expenses are most likely to be waiting for the 2015 Legislature’s overview.

It is expected to take an additional $ two.19 million to keep the network on the internet from March by way of June 30.

And then, for 2015-16, the expenses could rise however once more. The 2015-16 network charges are projected at $ 9.46 million. However, the Administration Division is hoping to gather $ six.72 million in e-price bucks, a prospect that now appears uncertain at very best.

Tallying up the figures, that implies Idaho taxpayers could encounter broadband costs of somewhat a lot more than $ 23 million, for a three-year period stretching from July one, 2013 to June 30, 2016.

Is that the extent of it? Not automatically.

If the feds decide the Idaho Training Network contract is void, the state could be prohibited from seeking e-fee dollars in the potential, explained Merlyn Clark, an lawyer representing the Administration Division, in a Senate Education Committee hearing in March.

The state could also be forced to spend back e-charge bucks to the feds. That could come to $ 13.five million, Administration Department Director Teresa Luna advised the Senate Education Committee in February.

In the long run, who offers the broadband service? With the Idaho Training Network contract now declared null and void, does the state reopen the bidding approach, and set aside its contract with CenturyLink and Education Networks of America?

Does the state appeal? Owen’s ruling can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

(Here’s more on Owen’s ruling from Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman and Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Evaluation.)

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