Qwest pulls out of Arizona school internet project

Qwest Communications International is halting work on its $100 million project of connecting Arizona schools to the internet.

The company told the state in May that the money from the original purchase order has all but been spent, James Jurs, executive director of the School Facilities Board, told the East Valley Tribune of Mesa.

Qwest also said no new work will be done until the board authorizes more money, Jurs said. Jurs was told Qwest would finish projects in progress but would not start any new work.

Qwest officials said they would need an additional $57 million to complete the job of wiring all Arizona schools to the internet, the Tribune reported. Qwest spokesman Mark Genrich declined to comment.

The original deal, announced in February 2001, said Qwest would provide the design, equipment, and installation of the hardware needed to connect the schools to the internet at a cost of not more than $100 million. It did not specify Qwest had to finish the work for that price.

About a third of the schools the company is supposed to wire are finished.

Key state legislators said they would be inclined to halt all payments to Qwest and get a complete accounting of everything that has been spent.

“I do not believe we pay anything,” said Sen. Jay Blanchard, D-Gilbert, who has investigated complaints about Qwest and the facilities board.

Blanchard said after an accounting of the $100 million is made, the state should ask for an explanation before it gives another $57 million for the project.

“We are obligated to pay them after we have been shown what work was done and we’ve had a chance to inspect that to make sure it is consistent with the guidelines and with the scope of work,” Jurs said.

Blanchard and other lawmakers said they are fed up with what they consider a poorly constructed deal that does little to control costs.

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Sen. David Petersen, R-Mesa, have asked a legislative committee staff to investigate the Qwest contract specifically to determine what the $100 million was spent on.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.