Idaho Wi-Fi project logs on first school district

The wireless contract could eventually cover 200 schools in Idaho.

IDAHO EDUCATION NEWSSeptember 6, 2013 

Four more districts are in the pipeline, and at this point the Wi-Fi installation project is proceeding on schedule, says Luci Willits, chief of staff to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

The controversial Wi-Fi contract, awarded to Nashville, Tenn.-based Education Networks of America a little more than a month ago, will cover high schools and junior high schools across the state. It’s still unclear exactly how many schools will wind up getting the Wi-Fi service, Willits said this week.

But in two schools in eastern Idaho’s Sugar-Salem School District, the Wi-Fi work is done.

Site surveys have been finished in Bear Lake, Lewiston, Cottonwood and Whitepine, and those districts are next in line to receive Wi-Fi, Willits said.

More than 110 school districts and public charter schools have decided to opt in for the state-provided Wi-Fi — and most want the work done quickly. Sixty-three want Wi-Fi as soon as possible, Willits said; another 27 want Wi-Fi by October.

But one school doesn’t want Wi-Fi installed until May, which is technically past the March 15 contract deadline to complete work.

While the Wi-Fi project has widespread support from schools, the contract has its critics.

Gov. Butch Otter and some lawmakers have questioned the deal — and the use of one-time money to bankroll a long-running agreement.

The 2013 Legislature earmarked $2.25 million for the Wi-Fi project, but the state signed a five-year agreement with ENA. With options, the contract could extend to 15 years at a taxpayer cost of $33.3 million.

Other bidders have raised questions as well, particularly Tek-Hut of Twin Falls, the low bidder on the contract.

Tek-Hut submitted two bids, including one at a first-year cost of $1,649,000 — 21 percent below the successful ENA bid of $2,111,655. The state received 10 bids for the contract, four coming in below ENA’s price.

But a review committee of state Education Department staffers, school district officials and private sector representatives unanimously selected ENA.

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