Idaho lawmakers recommend creating new broadband committee

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group of Idaho lawmakers tasked with reviewing broadband Internet in public schools have finalized a new outline on moving forward after the original program dissolved earlier this year.

The Broadband Access Study Interim Committee agreed Monday to urge the 2016 Idaho Legislature to approve a seven-member committee that would manage oversight and set standards for schools negotiating their own broadband contracts.

While the interim panel isn't done working — members still need to churn the proposals into legislation during their January meeting —lawmakers finished Monday's meeting encouraged they would be ready to submit their comprehensive recommendations to the Legislature come next month.

Legislative members are abandoning the previous one-size-fits-all statewide model as a way to provide broadband access, a service school officials say is just as crucial as providing electricity or running water. However, the program faced legal and financial trouble after facing a lawsuit from a vendor.

One key difference under the new model will be housing the broadband committee under the Idaho Department of Education rather than the Department of Administration. Lawmakers stripped the program from Administration officials in the spring after a district judge ruled that the $60 million contract that created the system was illegal.

The court decision left individual school districts scrambling to negotiate their broadband contracts, but so far district officials have managed to keep costs considerably lower from the state's model.

"The issue isn't technology. The issue is getting business right," said Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston and interim committee member. "We've had lots and lots of technology projects that have been driven by technologists and don't meet the business needs."

The program, known as the Idaho Education Network, had helped facilitate students who take classes with video teleconference equipment and also provided high-speed Internet since 2010.

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