Data show Idaho schools saving state money on broadband services by negotiating individually

Industries Associated Press

Idaho school districts are saving the state millions of dollars after being forced to negotiate their own broadband services to replace a state contract that was deemed illegal earlier this year.

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State budget writers Monday approved allocating $6.3 million to fund school broadband services for one more year. Idaho's statewide broadband program was cutoff earlier this year after a district judge voided the $60 million contract, ruling Idaho violated its own procurement laws when it improperly amended the agreement.

Lawmakers have scrambled to maintain services, just recently approving a $3.6 million bailout to continue school broadband access until the end of this fiscal year.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter had recommended approving $10.5 million for the network in fiscal 2016.

The amount approved Monday is based on data provided to the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee showing that most schools have negotiated their own contracts at much lower rates than the state did when it was in charge of the now obsolete Idaho Education Network.

According to the data, 55 of the 93 schools providing broadband access decided to stick with Education Networks of America — the same vendor provided under the statewide program. However, most school districts that negotiated with outside vendors were able find lower prices for the same amount of bandwidth.

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For example, northern Idaho's Coeur d'Alene School District now pays $1,500 per month with Ednetics, rather than the state paying Education Networks of America $12,716 per month for that district. In some of the smaller school districts, the difference is even more extreme. Fruitland School District, with just 100 high school students, now pays $100 a month to Farmer's Mutual Telephone Co. instead of the previous $6,788 monthly rate.

The appropriation must still pass through both chambers in the Idaho Legislature.

Under the legislation, schools would have to request reimbursement after finalizing a broadband contract.