Lawmakers vow to keep Idaho schools connected to the Internet

Lawmakers vow to keep Idaho schools connected to the Internet


by Scott Evans

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Posted on February 19, 2014 at 6:13 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 20 at 10:20 AM

BOISE – Idaho students will not be the victims.  That's the word from the Statehouse when it comes to providing Internet to schools throughout the state.

Right now the money the state uses to pay for the Internet in schools continues to be on hold. But the question many have is why?

The Idaho Education Network (IEN) -- it's a fancy name for the service that connects schools across the state, providing rural schools with access to classes it wouldn't have otherwise.

This past year the state stopped getting the money to pay for that service.

That money is a tax that everyone who has a cell or home phone pays to the FCC.

On one cell phone bill we looked at it's the Federal Universal Service Charge.

The Universal Service Administrative Company, or USAC, is the company that pays that money to the state to use for broadband infrastructure and connectivity in schools.

"Every year Idaho applies for funding reimbursement for our IEN and every year we have received those dollars, and it's not uncommon for these monies to be held up if questions are being asked that need to be answered," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

But this time the money has been held up since March 2013, a lot longer than anyone thought.

"Some questions have been asked and the answers have been given, but we have not yet seen a formal response from the FCC," said Luna.

Now the state needs to pay the contractors like CenturyLink that are providing the Internet services to the schools.

Gov. Butch Otter has now asked legislative budget writers to find nearly $14.5 million to keep school connected to the Internet.  That's $7 million this year and another $7 million next year.

"It's been the most unusual situation I've ever seen, plus the shock of trying to find $7 million that we didn't know we had to spend," said Rep. Maxine Bell.

Bell is co-chairman of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee.  She says everyone was in the dark about what exactly is holding up the money.

"We even had our congressional delegation check with the FCC and there's nothing they know or can help us with," said Bell.

Despite the lack of answers from the government agency, everyone agrees - the value this service provides is irreplaceable.

"We find the money for Idaho kids," said Bell. "We don't leave them victims in this and we continue to hope that somehow they will come up with a reason as to why it was stopped."

If the state ends up paying $14 million in taxpayer money for the Idaho Education Network costs, the general fund will be reimbursed the funds once the FCC releases the funds to the state.  When that will happen is still an unknown.