Internet Company Calling For Audit

CHARLESTON (AP) – A West Virginia Internet service provider wants a review of Frontier Communications’ fiber-optic statewide cable construction project and is asking state officials to suspend payments to Frontier.

Bridgeport-based Citynet CEO Jim Martin asked the state government’s chief technology officer in a letter to halt the payments and conduct an audit of the construction project, which is part of a $126 million federal stimulus grant the state received to expand high-speed Internet across West Virginia.

The state allocated $42 million to run fiber cable to schools, libraries, county courthouses, jails, health clinics and other public facilities. Frontier, which is owed about $26 million, installed 675 miles of fiber cable.

Martin’s letter to technology officer Gale Given alleges Frontier executives have misled state officials about the project. The letter recommends the inspection of more than 600 public facilities where Frontier installed fiber and requests copies of Frontier’s invoices.

Frontier spokesman Dan Page said he hasn’t received a copy of Martin’s letter.

“If the letter requires a response,” Page said, “we’ll communicate with those who received it.”

State lawmakers last week raised questions about Frontier’s construction costs. Frontier is charging about $62,000 for each mile of fiber, or about double the cost of similar projects elsewhere in the state.

Company officials blamed the higher costs on legal fees and a federal requirement to pay union wages to construction workers.

Martin, whose company operates an 8,000-mile fiber network, released photos last week showing Frontier’s fiber cable spooled up atop a telephone pole at a site in Harrison County.

“A physical review of every site should be undertaken to measure the actual length of fiber and ensure that the large coils that have been placed both inside and outside the (facilities) are not counted as part of the actual build,” Martin said. “Counting the coils would clearly inflate the number of miles constructed.”

Martin’s letter also seeks the release of detailed maps, which Frontier senior vice president Dana Waldo said have been turned over to the state Office of Technology.

Martin’s letter also was sent to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, legislative leaders and U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller. The governor’s office said it is reviewing the letter.

Waldo told lawmakers last week that Frontier built an “open-access” network that other telecommunications firms, such as Citynet, could use to serve business and residential customers. Frontier had inherited the fiber contract from Verizon.

But Martin said it’s not economically or technically feasible for Frontier’s competitors to make use of the fiber network.