Syringa Networks sues Idaho over telecom bid

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 11:02 AM

The telecommunications company Syringa Networks has sued Idaho, saying it illegally awarded a multimillion-dollar broadband contract to Qwest Communications Co. even though Qwest didn't have the lowest bid.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in 4th District Court, Syringa's attorneys claim an impartial evaluation team selected by the Idaho Department of Administration found the company was the most technically proficient bidder and also the least expensive but that the department awarded the contract to Qwest.

The contract is part of an ambitious project to link public schools, universities and businesses over a high-speed broadband network dubbed the Idaho Education Network. The state is getting $3 million in stimulus funds to build the network, with plans to invest more over the coming years.

Syringa says department director Mike Gwartney's decision to go with Qwest deprived Syringa of as much as $60 million in work over the next two decades.

The lawsuit names Gwartney, the department, its chief technology officer Jack Zickau, Qwest and the Nashville, Tenn.-based communication company Education Networks of America as defendants. Education Networks of America had submitted a joint bid with Syringa under the department's recommendation, according to the suit.

Syringa said the independent evaluator considered the bids and found that Syringa's group scored higher in every technical evaluation category and had the lowest overall cost. The state eventually split the award, giving the Qwest the installation contract and technical network services and the education component to the IEN Alliance, the group formed by Syringa and Education Networks of America.

According to the lawsuit, Gwartney and Zickau told Education Networks not to use Syringa for any of the network implementation, and Gwartney warned Syringa officials that their other contracts with the state would be in jeopardy if they complained.

Gwartney and other department officials could not be immediately reached Tuesday by The Associated Press. Calls to Education Networks went unanswered.

Bob Gravely, a spokesman for Qwest, called the suit "completely without merit," adding: "We will defend ourselves vigorously."

Syringa is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages from the state and for attorney fees. It also wants the contract to be voided and a judge to bar Qwest from the work.