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Congressmen seek probe of W.Va. broadband spending

Associated Press, Marietta Times

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two Republican congressmen are questioning West Virginia's use of federal stimulus funds to install high-powered Internet computer routers in rural schools, small libraries and health clinics.

The routers, which cost $22,600 each, are designed for college campuses and other large entities. The state bought more than 1,000 routers two years ago with $24 million in stimulus funds. The money was part of a $126.3 million stimulus grant the state received in 2010 to expand high-speed Internet across West Virginia.

The Charleston Gazette ( ) reports that Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Illinois Rep. John Shimkus have asked the Department of Commerce's inspector general to investigate the state's use of the money.

Walden is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Shimkus is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

According to the newspaper, the congressmen also sent a recent letter to West Virginia Homeland Security chief Jimmy Gianato ((Juh-NET)) asking questions about the router purchase and seeking documents about the state's use of the stimulus funds. Gianato is leading the state broadband project.

Gianato's office said Thursday he was out of town and unavailable for comment. He had earlier defended the router purchases, saying they could meet many different needs and be used for multiple applications.

According to the newspaper, the routers are built to serve a minimum of 500 users. But some public facilities that received the routers have only a few Internet connections.

"Proponents of the stimulus promised to create 'shovel-ready' jobs, but in the years since, we've seen the (Obama) administration's rush to dole out taxpayer dollars has resulted in allegations of wasteful spending, which the committee is examining," U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Debbee Keller told the newspaper. "(The Charleston Gazette's) reports indicate this may have happened."

U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling wrote in a May 30 letter to Walden that buying the same size router for 1,064 public facilities was the "most economical" decision, according to the newspaper.

The request for an investigation follows a May 16 congressional hearing during which lawmakers questioned the Obama administration's telecommunications chief about West Virginia's router purchases.

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