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System Reboot

Broadband mistakes have been at taxpayers' expense

Just as millions of taxpayers' dollars were set to be handed out to provide broadband Internet service to some areas of West Virginia, it came to light that several of them already have it or may soon, without government funding. Chalk up another fiasco involving state use of federal technology funding.

Members of the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council plan to hand out millions of dollars to companies that have submitted proposals to provide broadband Internet service in areas that lack it. The money comes from federal grants.

The council was set to vote on $4 million in grants when one of its members, Dana Waldo of Frontier Communications, suggested there was a problem. "I note many of those areas are currently served or can be reasonably served by Frontier," Waldo explained.

Action on the grants was postponed. Council members agreed grant requests should be reviewed - again - with the goal of voting on them Dec. 12.

Applications for grant money already had been reviewed once by a Pennsylvania consultant who provided the council a list of suggested rankings for funding.

But as Waldo and the consultant explained Wednesday, updated information about Frontier's high-speed Internet services was not available when the list was prepared.

Frontier and other companies providing similar service were asked to supply information about their coverage areas two years ago. But that information has not been updated for several months.

More evidence enormous sums of public money are being handed out without adequate planning came later in the Wednesday meeting. Two council members asked for maps showing how fiber-optic cable, capable of carrying high-speed electronic signals, was routed to more than 1,000 public buildings throughout the state. That was done as part of a separate federal grant program.

The two council members pointed out the maps they want will help them make decisions about grants they are administering.

But at least one of the two members already had asked for the maps at two previous council meetings, according to a published report. Why wasn't the material provided then?

Given the rapid pace of change in technology, including expansion of high-speed Internet service by both government and the private sector, some missteps in programs such as the council's are to be expected.

But frankly, it appears West Virginia already has had far more than its share of boneheaded errors and massive waste of taxpayers' money. At some point, a reboot of state government's technology programs may be in order.

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