Broadband: Signs of legislative frustration

Let’s catch up on the ever-changing Idaho Education Network saga, and this weekend’s clips.

Spoiler alert: The recurring theme is legislative frustration.

Cameron New
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

Cameron’s dire prediction. Sen. Dean Cameron, co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, says there’s a 90 percent chance the high school broadband system will go dark later this month.

Cameron, R-Rupert, made the prediction in an interview with Bryan Clark of the Idaho Falls Post Register. (Here’s a link to Clark’s story; the Post Register’s stories are behind a paywall.)

“We have looked at every alternative,” Cameron told Clark. “And I’m not saying that we aren’t still looking, because we are still open to any opportunity that we can find. But I believe in my heart of hearts, as much as it pains me to say it, that there’s probably a 90 percent chance the (network) will go dark.”

The sticking point is not necessarily the $1.6 million. It’s the Otter administration’s request for permissive “intent language” that would allow the state to resume payments to network contractors. Cameron says lawmakers are uneasy about giving the state the go-ahead to pay out on a contract that has been thrown out in court.

Bell New
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome

Bridge contract going nowhere? Cameron and other budget-writers are also skeptical about another plan from the Otter camp: a one-year “bridge contract” that would keep broadband in place for 2015-16 while the state moves on awarding a long-term contract in 2016. The administration wants to award a bridge contract by March 26, in hopes of restoring federally administered “e-Rate” dollars by July — but the contract would be modeled precisely after the current deal.

“I think we should separate ourselves from anything contractual at this point and let that air clear,” JFAC co-chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review.

Budget-writers asked pointed questions about the bridge contract idea earlier this month, when it was presented to the committee — and when they were warned the network faces a potential shutdown.

Video: talking broadband, and more. Not surprisingly, the Idaho Education Network was the lead topic on the pundits’ segment on “Idaho Reports” this weekend. I join the panel this week to talk about last week’s court ruling — and legislators’ growing frustration with the mess.

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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