More Money, Time Wasted

Internet service on computers fed by high-speed signals carried by fiber-optic cable and distributed through complex, expensive network routers can be very fast.

Faster, say, than the bureaucracy of government on which public libraries throughout West Virginia have been depending to provide them with high-speed Internet service.

As part of the federal “stimulus” program, West Virginia was given $126.3 million to expand access to broadband Internet service. The program has become a textbook – perhaps e-book would be more appropriate – example of delays, waste and poor, if any, planning.

Part of the program was the infamous purchase of hundreds of complicated network routers, at $22,600 each, two years ago. Most of them remain unused at the public buildings, including libraries, where they were sent.

Officials at one library apparently became so frustrated with delays in making the routers usable that they gave away the device that had been provided to them.

Now, more than 160 libraries have the pricey routers. They also have fiber-optic cable in their buildings.

But they don’t have the upgraded, high-speed Internet signals the equipment was designed to provide library patrons.

Under the federal “e-rate” program, funded by fees charged to telecommunications customers, libraries can be reimbursed for 75 percent of what they pay for Internet service. Without it, many Mountain State libraries would not be able to afford the service, provided through a statewide contract.

The high-speed signals for which libraries now are equipped cost more, of course.

Officials at Frontier Communications already have offered to provide the service at discounted rates.

Seems like an easy fix, right? Wrong. Before the state Library Commission can take advantage of Frontier’s offer, it has to gain federal approval of the change, in order to qualify for the e-rate assistance. That process can take up to 18 months; state officials hope to have their end of it completed early next year. But then, who knows how long it will take federal officials to grant the necessary approvals?

Apparently no one in Charleston thought of all this before installing the expensive routers and fiber optic cable, in time to get a head start on arranging for payment of fees for upgraded Internet service.

What a mess. Again, time and money – ours, as taxpayers, by the way – is being wasted on the state’s high-speed Internet program. What’s the digital age synonym for “fiasco”?