West Virginia halts broadband summit pending review of state expansion


For the last two years, West Virginia has been trying to move forward on its plan to expand broadband throughout state anchor institutions. Civsource has been following the story, which has included multiple federal investigations. Now, according to a local press account, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration has cancelled a planned “broadband summit” pending further review of the costs involved with the expansion.

In January, a report emerged that fewer than the expected number of anchor institutions (schools, libraries, first responders and health care providers) would be getting broadband. Some would have to rely on router only access as the state rushed to meet revised deadlines after the work was halted through multiple investigations and mismanaging of which institutions were on the list. The original expansion plan included several sites that already had broadband access. A revised plan, following the first federal investigation contained fewer sites to account for this change.

However,  January report said that despite revisions and increased oversight, the state was going to connect fewer institutions than it originally intended, citing cost overruns and deployment timelines. West Virginia got just over $126 million in federal grant funds to expand broadband, and those funds are again under review.

According to The Charleston Gazette, state officials announced the summit, but then postponed it, following a negative report from the state Legislative Auditor about the cost of the routers chosen to expand wireless broadband. The routers cost over $20,000 each and raised questions at the time of purchase, given what seemed like outsized expense for the equipment. Each router was intended to support 500 internet connections, but many of the institutions given router-only access will need significantly less than 500 connections.

The audit found that the government wasted between $7.9 – 15 million in stimulus funds by buying the those particular routers. The Governor has announced a review of which institutions got the routers, and how funds were appropriated. The auditor was not invited summit, and state officials cited the audit report as the reason for postponement, noting that they wanted the event to be about positive aspects of broadband expansion overall, and not the grant.