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Judge dismisses Syringa’s broadband bid lawsuit

A state judge has dismissed a large portion of a lawsuit between a consortium of Idaho telephone companies and the Idaho Department of Administration, saying the consortium didn’t fully try to resolve a multimillion-dollar contract dispute before it sued the state.

The consortium Syringa sued the state in December, claiming the department illegally handed Qwest Communications Co. a $60 million contract to install the broadband infrastructure for the Idaho Education Network, a project to link public schools, universities and businesses in Idaho.

Earlier this month, 4th District Judge Patrick Owen tossed out the lawsuit, but he later withdrew that decision and apologized, saying he forgot to consider a component of the case and would issue a new ruling.

His new ruling, issued Monday, also dismissed the lawsuit. Owen said that while Syringa had standing to bring the lawsuit, the consortium failed to exhaust all the administrative remedies it had available before going to the courts.

But Owen said Syringa’s claims that the state harmed the consortium by intentionally disrupting its contractual or business relationships could move forward, saying there didn’t appear to be the same issues of standing or administrative remedies that had affected Syringa’s other claims. The ruling doesn’t affect the other defendants in the case, Qwest and the telecommunications company ENA Services LLC.

The Legislature approved the Idaho Education Network program in 2008 to enable schools across the state to tap into classes they normally wouldn’t provide but are available at colleges and universities. More than 50 schools are already connected. Qwest lobbied hard for the system and won a big share of building it.

The state is getting $3 million in federal stimulus funds to build the network and has plans to invest more over the coming years.

In court papers, Syringa claims it was unfairly excluded from the contract to provide the broadband network, even though an impartial evaluation team concluded Syringa was the cheapest and most technically proficient bidder.

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