Politics & Government

Idaho settles multimillion-dollar lawsuits over defunct school internet project

Rocky Mountain High junior Tyler Clark, 16, and two other students attend a Calculus II class taught remotely at Eagle High School via the then-new Idaho Education Network in November 2009.
Rocky Mountain High junior Tyler Clark, 16, and two other students attend a Calculus II class taught remotely at Eagle High School via the then-new Idaho Education Network in November 2009. Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

The state of Idaho will pay $3.46 million to settle fallout from the failed Idaho Education Network project to provide internet service to Idaho high schools and state agencies.

Former project vendors Education Networks of America and CenturyLink will get $1.5 million and nearly $973,000, respectively, in return for those companies dropping their multimillion-dollar remaining claims against the state and Idaho’s school districts.

Gov. Butch Otter’s office and state legislative leaders were both involved in the settlement.

“It was very important for the state of Idaho to get this issue taken care of so we can stay focused on our efforts to build and maintain the kind of school system that our students, parents, communities and employers need,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said in a Thursday afternoon statement announcing the settlement.

The settlement funds will come out of a little-known account called the Legislative Legal Defense Fund. Legislative leaders put $8 million the fund last year in anticipation of a possible broadband settlement.

The legal battle over the network began in 2009, when the state Department of Administration awarded a $60 million broadband contract to ENA, its partner Syringa Networks and Qwest, now CenturyLink. A month later, the state removed Syringa and gave the technical work to Qwest.

Syringa sued the state and a multiyear legal battle ensued, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees. In November 2014, a district court judge ordered the contract voided. The Idaho Supreme Court upheld that order last March.

ENA and CenturyLink both sued Idaho last year, seeking damages and other costs related to losing their contracts.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in turn filed his own lawsuit demanding the companies return the money paid to them under the voided contract. That lawsuit was also dismissed as part of the settlement.

Nate Poppino: 208-377-6481, @npoppino

The Statesman’s Cynthia Sewell and the Associated Press contributed.

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