Is Idaho’s troubled broadband Internet service for schools losing its luster?
An audit of the service that connects more than 200 high schools to the Internet shows most aren’t using the equipment that comes with the Idaho Education Network contract, Idaho Education News reports.
And Lewiston School District, worried about the future of the troubled internet service, has decided to put its a broadband contract out for bid, the Lewiston Tribune reports.
The audit, presented at the legislature's budget writing committee Thursday morning, shows that out of 48 school technology directors surveyed, nearly half said they didn’t use the features that allow for videoconferencing, which can link schools together for instruction.
And out of 30 high schools visited, fewer than half used the equipment furnished as part of the broadband service.
But that is not the only part of the broadband program, said John Goedde, a former state senator now working on Gov. Butch Otter's staff to find a solution to Idaho school broadband problems.
"The Idaho Education Network is the highway that vehicles like Idaho Digital Learning Academy courses, streaming digital content, technology devices,
computerized testing, and more drive on," Goedde wrote to the budget committee after the audit report. "Many high school students utilize the bandwidth infrastructure provided the Idaho Education Network in their classroom every day."
One example of what Goedde is talking about comes from Kuna School District. Kuna Middle School, which is attached to the state's broadband service, has 800 computers — one for each student — that can all be used at the same time because of broadband. Read my report here.
The audit comes Idaho’s education and government leaders wrestle with trying to find a way forward for broadband after a 4th district judge ruled that a $60 million broadband contract was illegal because it stripped Boise's Syringa Networks of work that had been part of the contract. The state reassigned that work to Qwest (now CenturyLink) a month after the state awarded the contract in 2009, prompting Syringa to sue.
The project also depended on federal funding generated by a monthly fee on cellphone and landline bills to expand broadband that covered about 70 percent of the costs. But the federal government stopped putting money into the project in 2013 because of the legal dispute. The Legislature stepped in last year, approving $11.4 million to keep broadband services going through next month. The judge's ruling means the Legislature may have to put in more money this session.
Gov. Butch Otter asked the Legislature Monday for $1.6 million to keep the service running to schools this year and $7.2 million for fiscal year 2016.
Goedde has said the state may not get help from the federal government until 2016.