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10/18/2010
Citynet Says Goes Deliberately Canceled Broadband Meetings

by Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette (10/18/2010).

Citynet President Jim Martin alleged Monday that West Virginia Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes has cancelled state Broadband Deployment Council meetings to avoid having to face fellow board members and answer "difficult" questions about West Virginia's "disastrous" broadband expansion plan.

Martin said he has "exhausted all diplomatic avenues" with Goes. He now wants council members to vote to suspend a $126 million federal stimulus grant being used to expand high-speed Internet across West Virginia, according to an e-mail obtained by the Gazette.

"Secretary Goes absolutely does not want the council to be informed about the grant, so she can execute her broadband plan before anyone can challenge and question her," Martin told the Gazette on Monday.

Manchin administration officials responded that the Broadband Council has no authority to suspend the $126 million grant.

"The grant resides with the office of the executive," said Jama Jarrett, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin. "The office of the executive applied for and received the grant. The Broadband Deployment Council cannot suspend it."

Martin said the state isn't spending the stimulus funds as the grant stipulates, "and the blame sits squarely on the shoulders of Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes and the executive offices of the state of West Virginia," according to his e-mail sent to Broadband Council members.

"The fact that she never shared information with the council about her broadband plan before the application was sent in or post award is shameful," Martin said Monday. "At the end of the day, the council will be held accountable for the actions of Secretary Goes and the other state bureaucrats. The problem is Goes is trying to keep them from doing their job and overseeing the grant implementation."

The Broadband Council, which normally meets once a month, advises Manchin on broadband issues.

Martin said Goes has canceled three out of the past four council meetings. He said the council should have met last Wednesday, even though Goes was in Fairmont for a news conference that same day.

"There's absolutely no reason they couldn't have held the meeting," Martin said.

Jarrett said Broadband Council meetings were canceled in April, July, August and October for "various reasons." Most recently, council subcommittees needed additional time to meet and develop proposals, Jarrett said.

Council members expect a heated debate at their next meeting on Nov. 17.

"It's my belief its beyond the scope of our duties to suspend the grant," said Elaine Harris, a council member and executive with the Communication Workers of America. "At the same time, I'd be interested in a legal opinion."

Martin said council members could pass an informal resolution, asking the Governor's Office to suspend the grant.

"They may not be able to suspend the grant, but they sure as heck can make a recommendation," Martin said Monday. "They're hiding behind political procedures."

On Oct. 6, Martin sent a letter to federal officials asking them to suspend the $126 million broadband grant. He also has filed a protest letter with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which distributes broadband funds.

Martin alleges that the state is creating a broadband network that extends high-speed Internet to state agencies and solely benefits Frontier Communications. Frontier would own the network and charge public agencies for broadband service.

He said the state instead should be using the stimulus funds to build an "open-access middle-mile network" that Citynet and other telecommunications companies could tap into. Such a plan would be a "game changer" for West Virginia, Martin said.

"The foundation of this approach - proven in other states - is the creation of affordable high-capacity infrastructure (the interstates of the broadband world) that is equally open to all comers, all service providers, all wireless carriers, all cable operators and all incumbent carriers," Martin wrote in his e-mail.

Martin previously has said Goes has "no expertise or background in broadband whatsoever." He also insinuated that Goes is doing a "political favor" for Frontier.

Manchin, Goes and Frontier executives have labeled Martin's criticism "personal attacks."

"It's become personal," Harris said Monday. "Why is he doing this? He's going about it in the wrong way."

In his e-mail to council members, Martin said Goes and her supporters want to divert attention from the state's misguided broadband strategy. Martin said Citynet has received "political pressure" to drop its protest, but the company's "efforts will not relent."

"This is a unique opportunity to drastically improve West Virginia's economic future," Martin wrote to council members. "As uncomfortable as this dialogue may be, we must not let a little discomfort inhibit our ability to seize this golden opportunity."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

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