Broadband: Idaho may be on its own for funding until 2016

The state has outlined its timetable to rebid the Idaho Education Network broadband contract — and Idaho will likely have to go it alone on project funding at least until July 1, 2016.

Otter State Address
On Monday, Gov. Butch Otter announced plans to rebid the Idaho Education Network contract — and requested an additional $8.9 million to keep the system online.

The state Department of Administration won’t accept bids on the new contract until June, and that’s well past the deadline for the state (or school districts) to apply for federally administered “e-Rate” funds for 2015-16.

Here’s how the two timetables mesh:

  • The state has issued a Request for Information, or RFI, which is a precursor to the bidding process. “(The network is) asking interested parties to submit their perspectives regarding the continuation and growth of the state network,” according to a news release issued late Tuesday afternoon. The deadline on the RFI is Feb. 15.
  • In order to receive e-Rate dollars for 2015-16, the state, or school districts, must file paperwork on bids by March 26. That’s the deadline established by the Universal Service Administrative Company, the federal contractor that administers e-Rate dollars. Last week, state officials encouraged school districts to apply for e-Rate dollars on their own, although this means districts have to complete a competitive bidding process that will meet the March 26 deadline.
  • The state will release its Request for Proposals in June. This is when contractors can bid for the project.

By now, state officials and legislators have grown accustomed to going without e-Rate dollars for its statewide high school broadband system. In the past, these surcharges from phone bills covered about three-fourths of the network’s costs. But USAC put Idaho’s e-Rate dollars on hold in 2013, citing an ongoing dispute over the 2009 project contract.

District Judge Patrick Owen declared the contract void in November, prompting the state to rebid the contract.

This week, Gov. Butch Otter requested another $8.9 million to fund the network through June 2016. This comes on top of the $11.4 million in bailouts approved in 2014.

More reading: Here’s a related blog on the bidding process from Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports. And here, in full, is the Idaho Education Network news release from Tuesday:

“Today the Idaho Education Network released a Request for Information asking interested parties to submit their perspectives regarding the continuation and growth of the state network. The Request for Information is the first step in re-bidding the Idaho Education Network contracts, as announced by Governor Otter in his State of the State Address yesterday.

“’The kind and quality of courses and the level of instruction provided by the IEN truly is staggering. I believe its value is beyond question,’ the Governor acknowledged in his speech. ‘I am committed to fulfilling the vision and promise of the IEN, which will start with rebidding the contracts involved, but also includes a strong recommendation for full funding of IEN operations in fiscal 2016 to ensure the service is continued for Idaho students.’

“The Idaho Education Network is a managed service, statewide area network that provides high-speed bandwidth and videoconferencing capabilities to Idaho’s public high schools. Currently, 219 high schools are connected to the network, which serves more than 87,000 students. Live courses delivered from Idaho high schools, colleges, and universities direct to Idaho high schools provide students with equal access to course options, especially in rural areas. Since the inception of the Idaho Education Network, students have earned more than 18,000 college credits while still in high school.

“Since 2009, the Idaho Department of Administration has been in litigation with Syringa Networks over contracts with Education Networks of America and CenturyLink (formerly known as Qwest) establishing the network.  In November 2014, the Idaho District Court granted summary judgment to Syringa Networks. Since that time, the state has been working to identify options for maintaining uninterrupted network services to schools.

“The Request for Information will not result in a contract award. Information gleaned from the Request for Information will be considered in the development of a Request for Proposal. The Request for Proposal, or formal bidding solicitation, will be released in June 2015.

“The Request for Information can be found at www.ien.idaho.gov. Responses will be accepted until Feb. 15, 2015.”