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IEN lawsuit raises questions

By Staff Writer
Published On: Feb 11 2014 07:02:21 PM CST

Idaho may need to pay back nearly $15 million to cover the Idaho Education Network.

BOISE, Idaho -

Idaho may need to pay back nearly $15 million to cover the Idaho Education Network.

IEN is a statewide program that provides broadband Internet access and video conference classes to tens of thousands of students across the state.

However, an ongoing lawsuit, filed by Idaho-based telecom provider Syringa Networks in 2009, contends then-Department of Administration director Mike Gwartney inappropriately awarded work to Syringa's rivals.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter fielded plenty of questions about the network at his annual media breakfast Tuesday.

Idaho could end up paying millions of dollars to continue to fund the IEN. Next year, the $15 million in question was supposed to come from the Federal Communication Commission.

"That money comes from a $1 charge on cell phones," he said. "That's basically where that money comes from. And there is a very narrow and stringent authority over that money, so when any questions arise over how that money is being spent, any question at all, they can stop it."

While the FCC investigates the IEN contract, some have brought up concerns that Idaho could also end up having to pay back money already awarded.

"It's a possibility, but that has not historically happened before. With some of these, they find ways to solve it and then the state is reimbursed. That's been the pattern," said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

"We anticipate it's not going to cost us the 26 million. We still anticipate we are going to be able to satisfy, as we have five of the six charges, we are going to be able to satisfy that we did the right thing, and we are deserving of those funds," said Otter.

FCC officials are "conducting their own inquiry at this time, and they'll base their decision on their own inquiry and not necessarily the lawsuit," said Horman.

Horman sits on the House Education Committee. On Monday, the panel heard a presentation about how much of an impact the IEN has. The majority of school districts rely on it in some way.

There is not a known timeline for if or when Idaho would be reimbursed.

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