Broadband contract surprises lawmakers

In another twist in the Idaho Education Network broadband contract controversy, lawmakers say they were surprised by the state’s January 2013 decision to extend the contract.

The $10 million contract with Education Networks of America now runs through 2019, the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell reported Tuesday.

The contract wasn’t due for renewal until 2014.

“There’s a lot of questions from the Senate and from the House as to this entire contract the way it was, before they got the five-year extension,” Rep. Jeff Thompson, an Idaho Falls Republican serving on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told Russell.

The news of the contract renewal comes as the broadband project faces a multimillion-dollar funding crisis — precipitated by a federal contractor’s independent review of the original, 2009 Idaho Education Network contract. The review leaves the bulk of the network’s funding in limbo: “e-rate” dollars collected from cell phone and landline bills.

On Monday, JFAC approved a $6.6 million supplemental budget to keep the network afloat through June 30. Some intrigue surrounds the request: JFAC co-chair, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, has said contractors have threatened to let the network go blank if funding isn’t approved.

Gov. Butch Otter is seeking $7.3 million for the network for 2014-15; lawmakers have not acted on the request.

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