By Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell / Idaho Statesman
State officials are scrambling to preserve the network that lets Idaho students take distance-learning and dual-credit classes now that a judge has voided the state’s contract for the Idaho Education Network.
Six days after Gov. Butch Otter was decisively re-elected to a historic third term, 4th District Judge Patrick Owen ruled that the state’s $60 million broadband contract was illegal. Despite repeated calls from lawmakers to settle the lawsuit that grew out of the 2009 contract engineered by Otter’s close friend and business partner Mike Gwartney, Otter continued to fight for the contract with two campaign contributors, Education Networks of America and Qwest.
There are other questions about the IEN contract. The Otter administration waited 10 months before it told the Legislature in January 2014 that the Federal Communications Commission had cut off its $500,000-a-month payment to finance the network because of concerns over the contract’s legality. In 2013, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna extended the IEN contract to 2019 without telling legislators and converted a one-year Wi-Fi contract to a 15-year contract with ENA.
But with the status of the network’s contract in limbo and the network’s future in question, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chairman Dean Cameron said the big-picture issues need to wait.
“I can be critical of decisions made by the Department of Administration and I can be critical of the legal advice,” said Sen. Cameron, R-Rupert. “In the end we have a court decision and we have to figure out how we go from here and protect those kids.”
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