West Va. cancels broadband summit over $126.3 million stimulus funds investigation

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin canceled a statewide broadband summit because of a federal investigation into the state's alleged misuse of a $126.3 million broadband stimulus grant meant to extend broadband services to hospitals and libraries.

Last month, the state's Dept. of Commerce invited about 800 people to the summit via e-mail, which featured U.S. Senator Joe Manchin as a speaker.

As reported by the Saturday Gazette-Mail, which ran a series of stories on the apparent misuse of broadband stimulus funds, the department said in a second e-mail that "The broadband summit is postponed until a later date."

State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said the main concern was that they did not want the event to turn into "a discussion about the [$126.3 million broadband] grant."

West Virginia's legislative auditor put out a report about how the government purchased $24 million in Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) routers. Although the equipment was supposed to be used to deliver 500 Internet connections, the state ended up installing the equipment in small schools and libraries that did not have large bandwidth needs.

The audit revealed that the government's purchase of the routers wasted what the report said was at least $7.9 million--and up to $15 million--in broadband stimulus funds.

Following the audit, Tomblin's administration developed a task force to review over 1,000 sites that got the routers.

West Virginia is not the only state that has had issues with its broadband stimulus award, as evidenced by problems that arose in Florida and Louisiana.

The North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA), a community-led consortium building a middle-mile network serving 14 rural counties in North Central Florida, came under fire over allegations of project mismanagement and improper vendor supervision.

In Louisiana, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce revoked its $80 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant in October 2011.

For more:
- Saturday Gazette-Mail has this article

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