State hasn't responded to broadband tort claims; contractors can sue for back payments

Associated Press

State officials have not responded to demands for millions of dollars in back payments from contractors hired under the recently dissolved statewide broadband system, meaning the contractors have clearance to file a lawsuit.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Scott Zanzig said the state has not issued a formal response to the tort claims filed in early March. The state had 90 days to respond.

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"It's up to the claimants to file a lawsuit," Zanzig said, adding it is not unusual for government entities to forego responding to tort claims.

Earlier this year, a district judge voided the $60 million contract that provided broadband access to public high schools. Education Networks of America and CenturyLink offered their services for free for months while the state waited on the court's ruling. State law forbids agencies to make payments on voided contracts.

Once the contract was deemed illegal, the statewide broadband program immediately disbanded. This forced individual school districts to set up their own contracts with broadband companies to maintain the service. Meanwhile, Education Networks of America and CenturyLink were never paid for the months of operating for free.

According to the tort claims, the companies say the state owes them more than $6 million in back payments, including interest, expenses and attorneys' fees.

The tort claims were filed against the Idaho Department of Administration, which approved and oversaw the broadband program. The department referred questions to the state attorney general's office.

"CenturyLink provided services in good faith to state agencies and the Idaho Education Network, as a subcontractor, under the broadband contract," CenturyLink spokeswoman Julia Joy told The Associated Press in an email.

"We have not been paid for these services," she wrote. "We expect the State to fulfill its obligation to pay for those services, just as it would for any other services it contracted for and benefited from."

Education Networks of America officials declined to comment.