CEO: Syringa will respond to broadband contract rebid

Syringa Networks has fought the state of Idaho for nearly six years over its broadband contract.

Now that the state is rebidding the Idaho Education Network contract, Syringa’s CEO says the state is on the right track. And Greg Lowe says his company will respond to Idaho’s “request for information,” a precursor to the bidding process.

Greg Lowe Syringa
Greg Lowe, CEO, Syringa Networks

“I’m encouraged by the RFI that they submitted,” Lowe said in an interview with Idaho Education News and KIVI and KNIN TV. “I think that’s a great first step.”

Companies have until Feb. 15 to respond to the request for information — which will allow companies to offer their ideas about how to maintain and build the Idaho Education Network. Established in 2009, the network provides broadband service to high schools across Idaho. State officials tout the network’s reach, saying it serves some 87,000 students that have earned more than 18,000 college credits online since the network’s inception.

But a recent service audit suggests the usage of the network has been spotty, with enrollment in online courses also dropping between 2012 and 2014. Meanwhile, some large districts are preparing to bid out their own broadband contracts, stepping outside the statewide network.

The audit’s usage numbers should be a concern, Lowe said, and should be a wakeup call to state administrators. Asking would-be contractors for their input is a good idea, but the state should also ask customers what they think of the network, and what they want to see in the future. No businessman or politician can know what’s best for the schools.

“It’s amazing what you learn when you talk to your customers, with an open mind,” Lowe said.

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Not surprisingly, Lowe has some strong opinions about the way the new contract should look. He doesn’t think another five-year contract makes sense — a two- to three-year deal would allow the state to “refresh” its infrastructure. A large, overarching agreement doesn’t make sense either. Instead, the state should encourage competition, and get its infrastructure and online curriculum from multiple vendors.

The contract won’t take shape for several more months. A request for proposal will likely be released in June. The state hopes to have a new contract in place by July 1, 2016, said John Goedde, the former Senate Education Committee chairman working on the broadband dispute on Gov. Butch Otter’s behalf.

Syringa sued Idaho in 2009, saying the rewritten contract directed the $60 million project to CenturyLink and Education Networks of America, cutting Syringa out of the work. Lowe pegs his company’s losses at about $22 million.

In November, Boise-based District Judge Patrick Owen sided with Syringa, declaring the contract void. Otter last week announced that the state would rebid the contract.