State seeking a short-term broadband contract

The state of Idaho wants a bridge contractor to run the troubled Idaho Education Network high school broadband system — at least for 2015-16.

A 31-page “invitation to bid” went out Tuesday for the one-year contract. The state is hoping to have the contract signed and in place by July 1, so the state can once again receive federally administered “e-Rate” dollars to pay for broadband.

Network spokeswoman Camille Wells confirmed the contract is in the works, but offered few details. The Department of Administration, the state agency overseeing the network, is scheduled to pitch its budget request to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Thursday morning.

“That’s really part of the broader plan that we’re going to outline before JFAC tomorrow,” she said.

The network has been beset by contract and funding problems — both coming to a head in the past year.

District Judge Patrick Owen voided the existing $60 million network contract in November. That essentially leaves the network without a contract — and while the state is now shopping for a short-term contractor, the state also wants a long-term deal. However, the long-term contract won’t go to bid before summer.

As a result of the ongoing contract dispute, Idaho’s e-Rate dollars have been in limbo for nearly two years. The money, collected from cell phone and landline surcharges, had covered about three-fourths of the network’s costs. The Universal Service Administrative Company, the federal contractor overseeing e-Rate, put Idaho’s payments on hold in 2013.

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The e-Rate process is driving the schedule on the short-term contract, Wells said. The Administration Department had to issue an invitation to bid by Tuesday, in order to start the process and award a contract by March 26. That’s USAC’s deadline for the state to have a new contract in place — and begin receiving e-Rate dollars by July 1.

The short-term contract is not necessarily a surprise. John Goedde, Gov. Butch Otter’s point man on the broadband dispute, floated the idea in a January interview.

 

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