In Mullan, a possible broadband funding glitch

The state is encouraging school districts to apply to the feds for money to help pay for school broadband — because the feds have cut off payments to the state.

But there is one potential glitch in this backup plan.

The federally administered “e-Rate” payments are based in part on school poverty, as defined by the number of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. And some small schools don’t have a lunch program.

Idaho Reports’ Melissa Davlin wrote Saturday about the predicament facing the Mullan School District in North Idaho. Mullan doesn’t serve lunch to its 100 or so students, so the district is struggling with how to proceed.

“We would be in deep trouble without the broadband the (network) provides,” said Mullan district superintendent Robin Stanley told Davlin.

There are ways the district could apply for e-Rate dollars, network spokeswoman Camille Wells told Davlin.

All districts, large and small, are on the clock. In order to qualify for e-Rate dollars, they have complete a bidding process for broadband service and turn in paperwork by late March.

The e-Rate dollars are one contentious point in the Idaho Education Network debacle. Administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, a Federal Communications Commission contractor, the money is collected from cell phone and landline bills. E-Rate had covered about three-fourths of the network’s costs — but USAC hasn’t paid the state since early 2013, since the network’s 2009 contract remains locked in a court struggle. District Judge Patrick Owen declared the contract void in November.

Coming this week: We’ll have much more about the Idaho Education Network situation. We’ll take a closer look at the project’s debacle, to get you caught up. And when the Department of Administration makes its budget request for the network Thursday, we’ll have full coverage from the Statehouse.