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Fiber line maps at heart of broadband squabble

By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has used tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money to pay Frontier Communications to install more than 500 miles of high-speed fiber cable to public buildings.

Now, Frontier's competitors want detailed engineering maps that show exactly where the company has constructed the fiber lines.

State Broadband Deployment Council member Jim Martin, who heads Citynet, said Wednesday that his company and other telecommunications firms plan to review the maps before deciding if they could tap into the stimulus-funded network to serve homes and businesses.

"A number of providers have inquired about where that fiber is located so they can expand broadband to customers," Martin said Wednesday. "The engineering maps are important so they will know exactly where the fiber is connected, and so they can tap it."

Frontier has installed 566 miles of fiber cable to 593 public buildings in West Virginia -- part of a $126.3 million high-speed Internet expansion project funded by the federal stimulus.

Martin started asking about the maps eight months ago. State officials overseeing the broadband expansion project promised to check into his request, but they haven't released the engineering maps.

On Wednesday, Frontier executive Dana Waldo, who also serves on the Broadband Deployment Council, told Martin to request the maps from the state "broadband grant implementation team," which heads the broadband expansion project.

"Those are requests that have to go to the implementation team," said Waldo, who heads Frontier's West Virginia operations. "It provides for a consistent process."

However, Gale Given, who serves on the project team and heads the state's Office of Technology, referred Martin to Frontier.

"If you need detailed engineering maps," Given said, "it's my understanding the [broadband project] team is not going to produce those."

Given noted that less-detailed maps are available on the state's broadband project website.

"If you need a specific area," she said, "tell us the specific area you need."

Martin said the website's hand-drawn "Google maps" aren't sufficient. He also said the companies need maps that show fiber-line construction to multiple sites, not just single locations.

StratusWave, a company that recently received a state grant to expand wireless Internet in West Virginia, also has requested detailed maps, Martin told board members.

"That would allow providers to look at broad areas, so you can consider broadband deployment in an entire area, rather than a specific location," Martin said.

Broadband Council Chairman Dan O'Hanlon suggested that Citynet and other companies formally request the engineering maps through the broadband project team.

West Virginia is using the federal stimulus grant to install high-speed fiber to 630 community anchor institutions -- schools, libraries, county courthouses, health centers, state agencies, State Police detachments, jails and other public facilities.

Those sites and 500 others also are receiving new Internet routers that funnel data from one computer network to another. The routers cost $24 million.

Last month, the West Virginia Legislative Auditor reported that the government wasted at least $8 million on oversized routers that the sites didn't need. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has since ordered a review of the router purchases.

Also Wednesday, council member Lee Fisher asked why state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato hasn't attended a council meeting in "six or seven months." Gianato, who heads the broadband project, also serves on the council.

Fisher said the council sometimes barely has enough members in attendance to take a vote.

"I don't want to see us running into a quorum problem," Fisher said.

Given defended Gianato, saying he has taken part in at least one meeting -- and possibly others -- via conference call.

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