The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 23, 2014

W.Va. faces loss of leftover broadband funds


The Associated Press

CHARLESTON — Federal officials have rejected West Virginia’s proposal to spend about $2.5 million in funds leftover from a broadband stimulus grant.

The decision means the state likely will have to return the unspent funds to the federal government, Gale Given, the state’s chief technology officer, told the Charleston Gazette.

“That is my assumption,” Given said.

The state wanted to award the funding to Citynet to help pay for a project that would give West Virginia direct connections to the national Internet “backbone” in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is overseeing the stimulus funds, rejected the proposal last week, the newspaper reported.

The federal agency said in a Jan. 16 letter to the state that the Citynet project did not comply with “programmatic requirements.” The agency also said state officials did not answer questions or provide sufficient details about the project, and did not submit a formal request to extend a Dec. 31 deadline to use the funding.

Given said her office was not advised during recent discussions with NTIA officials that it needed to request an extension 30 days in advance.

“When we did make the request, we were told that it was late, but that that was just a technicality,” she said.

The state received more than $126 million in 2010 to expand high-speed Internet statewide.

Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor, said he was “very disappointed” by NTIA’s decision.

“We had this money allocated to us, and I was hopeful the federal government would have allowed us to keep the money and use it to expand broadband access,” Williams told the newspaper. “This was a really good project that would have brought broadband to a large number of folks throughout West Virginia and created some additional competition to marketplace.”

Jim Martin, Citynet’s chief executive officer, said Citynet still might be able to complete its project without the leftover stimulus funds.

The stimulus grant has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and reckless spending.

A report released by the Legislative Auditor in February 2013 found that state officials wasted at least $7.9 million after buying oversized Internet routers for small libraries and other public facilities with only a few Internet connections. In October 2013, a second audit revealed that state officials circumvented state purchasing laws before awarding contracts to companies that were paid with stimulus funds.