Idaho Schools Weathering a Broadband Crisis

State schools were forced to hunt down their own broadband contracts amid a contract vacuum.

For a frightening two weeks in February, Idaho public schools were scrambling to secure their own broadband connections after a state judge pulled the plug on nearly 200 schools’ Internet service provider over a contract dispute.

On Feb. 17, Idaho legislators voted in favor of an emergency distribution of $3.64 million to state schools so they could contract their own broadband access for the remainder of the school year, according to The Idaho Statesman. By Feb. 28, every school district in Idaho had secured its own broadband contract, with no more than a few days' downtime, Magic Valley reports.

But whether schools will return to a statewide network in the next school year remains to be seen.

The race to find new school broadband connections began in February, after Idaho Fourth District Judge Patrick Owen affirmed his November ruling voiding the state's broadband contract with Education Networks of America and CenturyLink, a deal that also provided Internet connections to other state agencies.

Federal E-Rate payments, which supplement schools' and libraries' telecommunications purchases, provided about 75 percent of IEN’s funding but were halted in 2013 amid concerns over the contract’s legality, according to The Times-News.

The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating how the original contract was awarded to the Idaho Education Network and CenturyLink, according to Government Technology. It’s not the first time the Idaho broadband contract has been in federal officials' crosshairs. In August, The Idaho Statesman reported that the Federal Communications Commission had subpoenaed Idaho state officials regarding questions about the handling of the state's broadband contract with the IEN.

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Mar 09 2015

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