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Progress on router-gate

By Hoppy Kercheval in Hoppy's Commentary,

Last week, Governor Tomblin’s chief of staff, Rob Alsop, announced on Metronews Talkline that the state had worked out a deal with Cisco on the Internet router mess.

Cisco has agreed to, as Alsop put it, “fix what we need to fix.”

Specifically, that means swapping out some of the oversized routers for more appropriately sized ones and getting exchanges or refunds from Cisco. Also, Cisco will extend the maintenance agreement for another three years at no additional cost.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

An independent legislative audit found that West Virginia wasted between $8 million and $15 million in federal stimulus money buying oversized routers to place in community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries and state police stations.

The audit said Cisco up-sold the state and the state’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program made a series of errors in approving the deal.

The scandal has caught the attention of Congress. Last week during a hearing on stimulus waste, the committee was shown a picture of the Marmet Public Library because the high-end router is worth more than the building.

Initially, Governor Tomblin stood by the router purchases. He defended the contract during last year’s gubernatorial debate, even though it was signed during the Manchin Administration.

But the audit, and the public outcry that followed, convinced Tomblin to get ahead of the router-gate controversy. Alsop took the lead and, following the State of the State address, worked primarily on correcting the problem.

To the credit of Cisco and their WVU-educated CEO John Chambers, they were anxious to make it right. What remains unclear, however, is why the state agreed to the deal in July 2010?

Tomblin released a letter last week showing that Kyle Schafer, who was the state’s Chief Technology Officer at the time, signed off on the purchase order. However, Schafer, who no longer works for the state, told the legislative auditor that he raised concerns that “many of these devices may be over-sized based on their designated locations.”

Now Senator Joe Manchin, who was Governor at the time, wants to clear the air. “I’m going to do a complete report at the Broadband (Deployment) Council and give a complete scenario of everything that came about,” Manchin said Friday. The next meeting of the council is March 13th.

That should be helpful.

The ever-quotable Manchin says he doesn’t know “the difference between a router and a pencil sharpener.” That’s fine, but somebody in his Administration should have had the technical expertise to make sure the right routers were purchased so millions of dollars of taxpayer money would not have been wasted.

Cisco’s willingness to help the Tomblin Administration fix router-gate is a positive step forward, but that’s only half the story.

Who, exactly, did this deal for the state and why?

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