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.

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“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.