The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 11, 2013

All access?


— As West Virginia works to get broadband Internet capability up every mountain and into every hollow in the state, some mighty big wrong turns have been taken.

Probably the most glaring was the high speed router debacle. In 2010, the state received $24 million in federal stimulus funds with which boost Internet access statewide. Last winter, legislative auditors blasted the manner in which the money was spent.

Officials insisted on purchasing more than 1,000 audit high-capacity routers to create hubs in a long-lasting network offering high-speed Internet access statewide at schools, libraries and other community institutions.  The devices are unnecessarily powerful for hundreds of the planned anchor locations.

A governor’s spokesman defended the buys, saying, “It wasn’t about the size of the facilities ... It was about what those libraries and schools should be able to do over the course of the next decade. Those routers can do more than what’s currently available.”

Well, yeah. But don’t you need a network before any of that can happen?

That is why we are a bit dismayed at information that came out of a legislative interims technology meeting Monday.

No one, it seems, has a grasp on what the final picture is to look like.

In an appearance before the committee Monday, the governor’s chief technology officer, Gale Given, noted that the system in place — so far — is full of success stories.

But lawmakers challenged other points, including the fees Frontier is charging the state to build fiber-optic lines to all schools, libraries, courthouses and 911 centers.

One delegate wanted to see the maps outlining where the lines have been built to date. While Given said the maps are available online, a second delegate challenged that.

After looking at Given’s own set of maps, the delegate said it appeared fiber-optic lines had been placed in locations that already had high-speed Internet access instead of providing it to rural areas where access is rare.

Given’s answer was that lines were extended from some places that already had fiber-optic lines, or in places that had copper-based lines or wireless access.

And on it goes. It’s not surprising the task remains undone. What will it take to get everyone on the same page?

Pushing high-speed Internet into those hollows and up the mountains is an important task — one that needs to be completed sooner rather than later.

If the right hand is doing something the left is unaware of, they must communicate calmly and rationally to come together, get it right the first time and not waste money.

The funds for this project are coming out of taxpayers’ pockets. West Virginia can ill-afford high-dollar mistakes.

Too much is at stake.