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Fiasco: Millions for routers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Perhaps a few West Virginia public institutions are large enough to use huge wireless Internet routers costing $22,600 each -- but many small facilities that got the monster devices need only $200 units. Thus a huge amount of taxpayer money has been wasted.

Week after week, Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre has spelled out a government botch, as follows:

West Virginia's Homeland Security agency got $126 million in federal stimulus money to bring high-speed broadband Internet access to 1,064 "community anchor institutions" such as schools, libraries, county courthouses, 911 call centers, State Police detachments and health clinics. Many of the places already had broadband service.

Without asking the agencies, state officials purchased 1,064 super-size routers big enough to serve entire universities, hospital complexes, industrial parks and other places with multitudes of computer terminals. Also without asking, the state paid Frontier to string fiber optic cable to the locations. The result has been chaotic.

For example, the outsize routers were sent to 11 regional planning and development councils, small offices with a half-dozen or so employees each. Regional executives were baffled and didn't know what to do with the devices. Not one was installed or used. They sit abandoned in boxes.

A $22,600 router sent to Region 11 in the Northern Panhandle had to be retrieved because the office actually is in Ohio. Also, Frontier was paid $14,800 to bring fiber cable to the Region 2 office in Huntington -- but the agency moved away, and a law firm now enjoys the hookup.

What a fiasco.

Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling told Congress that West Virginia's broadband project is "an economical decision that is well justified by the facts." But congressional Republicans -- trying to embarrass the Democratic Obama administration -- have demanded an inspector general investigation.

Despite its partisan motivation, the GOP request is a good idea. We hope the Commerce Department's inspector general spells out clear conclusions about what seems to be a dismal bureaucratic bungle.


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