JFAC voted 19-0 today to not act on a pair of budget requests for the Idaho Education Network, citing the ongoing uncertainty surrounding federal funding for the project. At issue is $7.3 million to fund IEN through 2014-2015 and $1,096,700 to expand the network into elementary and middle schools around the state. A $6.6 million funding bill to keep IEN afloat has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
The legality of the state’s contracts with providers Education Networks of America and Century Link is being challenged in court by Syringa Networks. As a result, the Federal Communications Commission has withheld payments to Idaho for nearly a year, although legislators were just recently informed of this development. Federal “e-rate” funds were expected to cover roughly three-fourths of the cost of the IEN project. Including possible reimbursement requests, Idaho could be on the hook for as much as $28 million for IEN, although the State Department of Administration continues to express confidence that the lawsuit will be dismissed and the federal funds will begin flowing again.