West Va. whittles down middle mile project recipients

West Virginia's troubled middle mile broadband stimulus project took another turn on Monday as the state starts providing routing equipment to public sites that have fiber connections.

The state has now named 175 new sites as "community anchor institutions" that will get a higher speed broadband service. Out of that group, only seven sites will have fiber installed into their buildings with all facilities getting new routers.

"Due to the amount of time required for environmental assessments and fiber builds, we determined that we would limit most of the additional sites to 'router-only' so that we could complete the build on time," said Diane Holley-Brown, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Technology.

There have been a number of missteps since this project was spearheaded by former Gov. Joe Manchin's administration in 2011. At that time, the state applied for a federal grant to bring fiber to 1,064 community anchor buildings, including schools, libraries, health centers, State Police detachments, county courthouses and 911 centers.

Fast forward two years later, and West Virginia is going to bring fiber to only 639 of those 1,065 facilities, with the remaining sites set to get routers.

One of the other problems with this project is a surplus of routers that were purchased for $24 million without an understanding of how many were actually needed for the project. A number of the designated sites, reports The Charleston Gazette, already had fiber and routing equipment.

This oversight about the routers means state officials now have to find "replacement sites" for the routers.  

In May, the state's Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said they had asked Virginia-based ICF International, a consulting firm first hired to analyze West Virginia's existing broadband infrastructure, to figure out how the stimulus money should be spent.

While West Virginia is certainly not the only state that has had issues with broadband stimulus funding--similar issues have emerged in Florida and other states--it's another cautionary tale about how lack of oversight with the program can cause large issues with getting these networks built.

For more:
- The Charleston Gazette has this article

Commentary: Failures and triumphs on the road to broadband ubiquity

Related articles:
Auditors to examine West Virginia's broadband stimulus spending
FCC opens $300M fund to boost rural broadband access