Executives of the organization working to expand broadband access for Colorado school districts told legislators Wednesday that they hope to finish their work next year.
But a key element of the EAGLE-Net Alliance’s future plans — hiring a company to operate the network and also to invest $8 million in the system — isn’t yet in place. Alliance executives told the Legislative Audit Committee that they’re in negotiations and hope to have an announcement next month.
“We will not be able to discuss details … until we enter into an agreement with a network operator,” said Michael Ryan, EAGLE-Net president.
EAGLE-Net, launched in 2010 with a $100.8 million federal grant, is a consortium of school districts and other government bodies that is using the grant to expand broadband access for school districts, libraries, community colleges and some other government entities.
Reliable Internet access is a growing concern for some Colorado school districts as they face the first state online testing next spring, followed by full rollout of online tests in early 2015.
EAGLE-Net has been plagued with problems and complaints over the last year. Critics have faulted it for being behind schedule, for rocky relations with some private broadband providers, for alleged lax spending controls and reported unwillingness to share information with legislators, plus other issues. The system’s federal overseer, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, suspended work from last December until last April because of questions about whether EAGLE-Net had followed environmental requirements.
There’s also been confusion over whether EAGLE-Net is supposed to serve all school districts or focus on rural districts that lack access. System executives noted Wednesday that federal regulations require EAGLE-Net to serve any district that requests services, and they also defended their strategy of building the network starting in Denver. (Get more background in stories published by EdNews partner the Denver Business Journal.)
The audit committee last summer requested the special informational meeting with system executives. The tenor of the session was low-key, with Ryan and others doing much of the talking in response to a 5 1/2 –page list of committee questions.
“EAGLE-Net is confident it will be able to build its network,” Ryan said, explaining the system has $8.4 million on hand, which he said should be sufficient to connect an additional 29 “community anchor institutions” to its network this year. (A community anchor is a district office or a library or other government agency.) Some $3.4 million of the $5.9 million available for construction is budgeted for connecting the remote town of Silverton.
He said 105 school districts would be served when system is built out in 2014, a year later than originally planned.
Ryan also said the system will need additional funds beyond the $8 million to be invested by the new operator.
EAGLE-Net attorney Kenneth Fellman acknowledged that the system’s original plan was to build a statewide network, but that “certain pieces were taken out” because of federal restrictions on moving into already-served areas. (See this EAGLE-Net map for information on areas it and other providers serve.)