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Eye On Boise

Ednetics CEO: Let Idaho companies compete for broadband contracts

Shawn Swanby, CEO of Ednetics, which is based in Post Falls, said his firm has offices in Post Falls, Moscow, Boise, Yakima, Issaquah and Portland. “We have offices across the Northwest, but we have 75 employees in the state of Idaho,” he told lawmakers on the broadband access study committee. “There are a lot of Idaho companies that are investing here, and I think it’s important as you move forward that you consider that, in how you look at contract vehicles. I’m not saying it should be exclusive to Idaho companies, of course, but I do think you should structure it in such a way as to allow participation for people who are investing in the state.”

Swanby said he looked at a sample of 20 school districts that had the same broadband provider both during and after the now-defunct Idaho Education Network. Their overall costs were 65 percent less after, the average bandwidth was 71 percent higher, and the cost per megabit was 80 percent less. “This was with the same service provider,” Swanby said. “But they were in a competitive market environment, where they actually had to fight to win the contracts. And this really is the point that I’m wanting to make today … how to build a structure that encourages this and maintains this inside the contract.”

He said the IEN was a private network, with centralized delivery. Most of the school districts in the sample went with an enterprise network post-IEN, providing a managed and monitored service for their district.

“You can structure contracts in such a way to maintain competition throughout the life of the contract, but you have to look at things in a slightly different manner,” Swanby said. He said that might involve multiple contractors providing “interchangeable parts” to create the whole system. “This theory of one throat to choke is not a really good contracting model for the state,” he said; it makes the state too dependent on a single contractor. He said the “easy button analogy,” the idea that someone will just come in and take care of the whole thing for the state, is “where you’re getting all the extra costs.”

The model Swanby described would involve the state owning and operating key equipment; management by state or independent contract; and “interchangeable parts” for service to add accountability and lower risk. That’s where different, local providers could come in. “Ultimately what you’re trying to do is create a competitive environment.”

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked, “Why wasn’t the state doing this the first time?” Swanby responded, “I don’t think I can speak to that. We would certainly have recommended it.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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