Sites picked for routers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia officials have selected a private college, nonprofit environmental group and a federal jobs program center in Charleston as possible sites scheduled to receive $22,600 Internet routers paid for by President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.
The state's application for the federal stimulus funds specified the money be used for routers and high-speed fiber cable to "critical community facilities" in West Virginia -- "schools, libraries, health care facilities, public safety institutions, emergency response entities, courthouses and jails."
But a federal agency -- at the state's request -- recently approved Bethany College, Canaan Valley Institute and Charleston Job Corps as possible locations that will get stimulus-funded routers and fiber.
Asked this week how a private college wound up on the state's list, state Office of Technology administrator John Dunlap said, "I'm not sure."
Dunlap and state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato also weren't sure who selected Canaan Valley Institute in Tucker County. Gianato and Dunlap said they weren't familiar with the Charleston Job Corps.
"If it's a federal entity, it would not be allowed," said Dunlap, who serves on the state's three-member grant implementation team.
"It could be a Workforce West Virginia [state employment programs] site," added Gianato, who heads the broadband project team. "We need to look and see specifically what it is."
The U.S. Department of Labor runs the Charleston Job Corps, a vocational training program for low-income job seekers.
During an interview this week, Gianato and Dunlap said just because the Job Corps center, Bethany and Canaan Valley Institute wound up on the list doesn't guarantee those locations will receive stimulus-funded routers.
"We're asking for more sites to be approved than we have fiber and routers for so we have the flexibility as we go through this toward the end of the day to be able to get all those deployed," Gianato said.
The Jobs Corps, Bethany and Canaan Valley Institute are among 88 sites recently designated to receive a router and fiber as part of West Virginia's $126.3 million federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet across the state.
State officials submitted the sites -- calling them "community anchor institutions" -- to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which oversees stimulus spending on broadband projects.
In 2010, state officials identified 1,064 public facilities that needed new routers and a fiber-optic Internet connection.
That year, the state subsequently purchased 1,064 Cisco Internet routers for the sites. The routers cost $24 million, or $22,600 each.
However, the state bought the routers without first ensuring there were a sufficient number of places to put them. It turned out that about 300 of the initial designated sites already had fiber and suitable routers.
State officials are now scurrying to find "replacement sites" for the orphan routers.
On Thursday, a Canaan Valley Institute administrator said the Tucker County organization never requested a router or asked to be included on the state's list of "community anchor institutions."
"No, I never heard about this," said Jennifer Newland, the group's executive director. "I'm not aware of anyone asking us about this."
Newland said the nonprofit group, which helps communities restore streams and set up wastewater treatment facilities, probably could use a new router for online data analysis and educational programs.
"It's nice that someone thought of us, I guess," Newland said.
The U.S. Department of Labor installed Internet routers at the Charleston Job Corps office about a year ago, said Bryon Thompson, systems administrator at the federal program.
Thompson said he's heard nothing about his office possibly receiving a new stimulus-funded router from the state.
"I did recently receive a [router] fan, but I didn't receive a router," Thompson recalled. "All of our service and maintenance is done by a federal data center. Any new router, the [Department of Labor] would have to put that in."
A Bethany College spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The state's latest list of 88 replacement sites includes 54 local health departments across the state, 17 community colleges, and a handful of county school board central offices, state hospitals, regional education service agencies and vocational schools.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources submitted the list of health department sites.
A Kanawha-Charleston Health Department administrator said this week the agency doesn't have a fiber connection.
"KCHD has not been notified nor have we requested a Cisco router," said Lolita Kirk, administrative services director.
State officials said most health departments likely wouldn't make the final cut and receive routers.
"The fact they've been approved doesn't mean they will ultimately get a router," said Gale Given, West Virginia's chief technology officer.
The federal government's broadband grant program defines community anchor institutions as "schools, libraries medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community colleges and other institutions of higher education."
The definition goes on to say the agencies should provide "outreach, access, equipment and support services to facilitate greater use of broadband service by vulnerable populations, including low-income, the unemployed and the aged."
The state also has cobbled together a separate list of about 200 additional replacement sites that may receive routers. Gianato would not provided a copy of that list to the Gazette this week, saying the state had yet to submit the document to the federal government for approval.
Last month, two U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chairmen asked for the inspector general to investigate West Virginia's use of the stimulus funds to purchase more than 1,000 routers.
The request followed a series of reports in the Gazette that raised questions about the equipment's size and cost.
The state purchased Cisco 3945 series routers, which are designed to serve 500 or more users at places such as corporations, medical centers and universities.
In West Virginia, 70 percent of the pricey routers are being installed at schools and libraries. Some locations have only a handful of Internet connections.
Some public agencies have refused to install the "enterprise-class" routers, saying they're unneeded and a waste of taxpayer funds.
State officials have defended the router purchase. They say the Cisco routers will serve public facilities' technology for at least the next 10 years.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.