Schools across Colorado are scrambling to find funds to pay for internet access after costs for the service doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled for 2,400 educational institutions.
The increase came after Qwest Communications said it would no longer keep internet access prices low for schools and educational institutions such as libraries and colleges.
According to companies that bid and state officials, Qwest grew tired of charging schools and state institutions artificially low rates, sometimes one-tenth the market rate.
“It’s supply and demand,” said Len Meyer, division director of Colorado Information Technology Services. “All I can say is that we had a really super deal for years. I wish we still had the old rate.”
The price hikes began in July and vary among districts.
For Mapleton 1 School District, Adams County’s tiniest and most impoverished school system, the cost of the internet connection to one of its schools more than doubled to $760 in July, from $341 the month before.
Colorado’s big districts are looking at higher rates, too. The Jefferson County Public School District, the state’s largest, estimates it will pay $12,000 for the service next year, up from $5,000.
The state’s contract for internet access has not yet been signed by the two companies that won the bidding process, AT&T and Britain’s Wireless & Cable. The state is still arguing with those companies about legal and insurance details in the contract, according to Patrick Burns, who chaired the committee that judged the bids.
State officials had to go back to Qwest, which bid for the job but lost, and ask it to continue service until Dec. 31. By then, state officials hope, the contract will be signed.
Qwest officials agreed to keep the service going, but it will charge rates close what it would have charged had it won the contract, the company said.
That means Qwest could take in as much as $1 million from Julywhen the state asked it for helpuntil Dec. 31, according to one state estimate. In the same time last year, Qwest probably took in between $150,000 and $250,000 providing the same service, said Burns.
The rates won’t be much different when AT&T and Wireless & Cable take over. They will charge just as much or more, depending on the internet speed and type of service the schools want, the contract shows.