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Expert calls Idaho wireless pact ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a bad deal’

Shawn Swanby built his high-tech company from the ground up, starting in his living room in 1997 back when he was a University of Idaho student. Now he runs a Post Falls-based firm that provides technology services to schools across the Northwest, from the Coeur d’Alene School District to Seattle Public Schools. But he couldn’t win a statewide contract in Idaho to provide wireless networks in Idaho high schools; nor could a Twin Falls, Idaho education technology firm that already has worked with 71 of Idaho’s 113 school districts.

Instead, the 5- to 15-year, multimillion-dollar contract went to a politically connected Nashville, Tenn. firm. Both Idaho firms – who were the two runners-up among nine bidders for the contract - say the state’s taxpayers will pay much more because of the way the deal’s been structured, than they would if school districts had come to companies like them, as they’ve done in the past. The state maintains it’s the most cost-effective way to get wireless to all high schools, but a nationally known expert calls the plan “ridiculous” and “a bad deal.” In today’s Spokesman-Review, I have three stories about the wireless contract: The story about the two Idaho firms here, one of which says it bid half a million dollars a year less than the chosen bidder; a report on the state’s process for reviewing the bids here, in which review committee members say it was fair and professionally handled; and the expert’s critique here.

I am on vacation for the next week, and the State Department of Education still hasn’t fulfilled my July 25 and 26 public records requests for the complete proposals from the three finalists, the scoring awarded to all three including breakdowns, and the costs proposed by each of the three. They haven’t even released the cost proposal from the winning bidder, ENA. The Idaho Public Records Law requires the department to release these public documents, so I expect to get them in the coming week; I’ll write about them when I return.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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