Investigate State Broadband Work

You may remember “Routergate,” the expensive fiasco involving West Virginia officials’ misuse of millions of dollars in federal technology funding.

That was only the tip of the iceberg, if various allegations and reports regarding the state’s technology spending are to be believed.

Part of President Barack Obama’s “stimulus” program was $126 million in grants to West Virginia, to expand access to broadband internet service. One aspect of the initiative was to provide internet routers for public buildings, including schools, throughout the state.

It turned out state officials wasted millions of dollars on routers far more powerful and complex than were needed. That money could have been used for other purposes, including extension of fiber-optic cables needed for broadband service.

Frontier Communications and state government are being sued by Citynet, an internet company in Bridgeport, W.Va., over a $41.5 million contract to improve broadband service in West Virginia. That lawsuit accuses Frontier and the state of using fiber-optic cable that did not meet federal guidelines and of improperly including some indirect costs in the project.

Frontier has defended its work steadfastly. State officials either have done the same or refused to comment. The Citynet lawsuit may have to go to trial to settle the dispute it involves.

But there have been other reports of outrageous waste in the fiber-optic cable program. They include millions of dollars spent to extend broadband service to schools that already had it — or that had been scheduled to be closed.

State officials, not Frontier, would appear to be at fault for such enormous waste. The company, after all, merely strung cable where state officials said they wanted it.

When lawsuits are filed, government officials have the “out” of saying they cannot comment on the matters in question because they are in litigation. But spending — or misspending — of millions of dollars that could have done real good needs to be investigated. Where there’s smoke, there usually is fire –and on this one, the thick, sooty smoke is billowing into the air.