Idaho Tries to Keep Broadband Flowing to Schools Despite Legal Issues

The state's governor calls in help from a former state senator to figure out how to fund broadband for schools after a judge's ruling.

by Bill Roberts, The Idaho Statesman / January 7, 2015 0
John Goedde, the former chairman of the Idaho Senate Education Committee, accepted a request from Gov. Butch Otter to help find a solution that is palatable to lawmakers to keep broadband Internet service running to Idaho schools.
Idaho's goal of providing broadband services to all public schools ran into problems when 4th District Judge Patrick Owen ruled in November that the state's $60 million broadband contract was illegal, because it stripped Boise's Syringa Networks of work that had been part of the contract. The state gave that work to Qwest (now CenturyLink) a month after the state awarded the contract in 2009.
The project depended on federal funding, which covered about 70 percent of its costs. But the federal government has not put any more money into Idaho since 2013 because of the legal dispute. The Legislature stepped in last year, approving $11.4 million to keep broadband services going through next month.
Some superintendents in small school districts worry that they will lose the service if a solution isn't found. Since the case is unresolved, the Legislature -- which convenes Monday for its 2015 session -- may have to appropriate several million dollars quickly just to keep the broadband service in place through the rest of this school year, while Goedde and others work on a longer-term solution.
Otter confirmed he has asked Goedde to serve as an educational adviser. Goedde said he will be paid $4,000 a month on contract.
Both Otter and Goedde have strongly supported the broadband service, which has brought new classes to many schools that couldn't otherwise afford the instructors to teach them.
Goedde said one key goal is to persuade the federal government to restore $500,000 a month in funding. He is optimistic about finding a solution.
"There is no question in my mind that it is fixable," Goedde said.

Goedde, a former Coeur d'Alene senator, lost his seat in a surprise defeat in May's Republican primary.