Broadband capacity could become issue in IEN dispute

Add broadband capacity issues to the list of concern’s following a judge’s decision last month to void the state’s broadband contract.

Meeting Tuesday in Boise, members of the Idaho Program Resource Advisory Council expressed concerns that the Idaho Education Network could reach its capacity by March or April if state officials don’t intervene.

Tom Luna
Tom Luna

On Nov. 10, District Court Judge Patrick Owen voided the state’s $60 million broadband contract, writing “An agreement made in violation of the state’s procurement law cannot be fixed or cured.”

The state had relied on federal “e-rate” dollars collected from surcharges on phone bills to cover three-fourths of the costs of the contract. But, amid the contract dispute, the Federal Communications Commission’s contractor, Universal Service Administrative Company, cut off Idaho’s e-rate payments.

The IEN remains online as the legal wrangling plays out, but officials are holding off on new upgrades intended to address capacity issues in light of the court ruling, IEN Technical Director Brady Kraft told IPRAC members.

“Without buying additional bandwidth increases we will be behind in some individual (school) districts as we move forward,” Kraft said.

Usage of the broadband network has essentially doubled every year since the system went online as more schools implement one-to-one computing device policies, more students spend more time online and pupils take advantage of dual credit courses.

The network’s capacity is 7.2 gigabits, but if usage trends continue, capacity could be exceeded by March or April. If capacity is reached, that could affect the network’s speed and reliability.

“It obviously creates a sense of urgency in my mind… to assure as we work through these things this has little or no impact in the classroom,” outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said.

“At some point in the near future capacity is going to become an issue and noticeable in the classroom,” Luna continued. “The unintended consequence is student growth and pushing the pause button. In some schools, unfortunately, it will be some period of time before they re-engage (so) we don’t to want see that pause.”

Luna said he remained committed to ensuring schools’ service is not interrupted or affected during this period of uncertainty.

Members of the committee conducted an approximately hour-long executive session on Tuesday to discuss litigation and the case, but emerged without taking any action.

IPRAC members are scheduled to meet again Feb. 10, and lawmakers are expected to debate their options and how to pay the program’s bills after the 2015 legislative session opens Jan. 12.

Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra will take Luna’s place on IPRAC once she is sworn into office next month.

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