Of WiFi system shopping, and ‘freedom’

It’s not designed to be “a big sales pitch,” according to the company’s president.

But one of the unsuccessful bidders on the state’s high school WiFi contract wants Idaho school districts to know their wireless options.

Post Falls-based Ednetics Inc. has launched a website dubbed “Idaho WiFi Freedom.”

“Recent changes from the Idaho Legislature allow you to select the best wireless provider for your school’s specific needs,” reads the site’s homepage. “Experience the freedom — check out your options.”

Oh, and also there’s a page where one can order an Idaho WiFi Freedom t-shirt.

“We’re trying to create this as a resource,” Ednetics president Shawn Swanby said of the website. He believes there is interest in shopping around for school wireless options, but confusion about the issue.

Here’s the brief rundown. In July, the state awarded a multiyear WiFi contract to Education Networks of America, based out of Nashville, Tenn. The deal was controversial on a number of levels: first, Ednetics was one of two Idaho bidders to vie for the project; and second, some lawmakers were blindsided by the ENA contract, which could be extended to 15 years at a taxpayer cost of about $33 million.

So the 2014 Legislature changed the rules. High schools and junior high schools can opt out of the state’s WiFi system by July 1, or establish their own systems — and qualify for $21 per student, the same as ENA is receiving on its contract.

The theory behind the opt-out plan is that districts might be able to save some money by cutting their own deals — and apply the cost savings to other technological needs. Some districts will be in position to save money, said Swanby, but others won’t.

Ednetics works with about 200 school districts in the Northwest, including 30 to 40 Idaho districts, said Swanby. One district is Coeur d’Alene, which opted not to join the state-funded WiFi network last summer, choosing instead to go with Ednetics.