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10/25/2010
Citynet Ads Blast State's Broadband Plans

by Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette (10/25/2010).

Citynet has started an advertising blitz to explain the company's opposition to the state's use of $126 million in federal stimulus funds to expand high-speed Internet in West Virginia.

Citynet has asked federal officials to suspend the broadband grant, saying Gov. Joe Manchin's office isn't spending the stimulus funds as required by federal law.

Citynet President and CEO Jim Martin said the state is using the federal broadband grant to "extend old, outdated telephone lines" for Frontier Communications instead of building a network Citynet and other telecommunications companies could tap into.

"West Virginia is at a crossroads," Martin said in a prepared statement.

"We can build a 'middle-mile' solution for high-speed Internet infrastructure and create jobs, or we can stick with the status quo and watch West Virginia fall behind once again. The outcome will determine our state's economic growth for years to come."

In addition to radio ads, Citynet has set up a website, www.westvirginia.com, to explain its complaints about how the state is spending the stimulus funds.

Martin said the state is spending $69 million in grant funds to build a "last-mile" broadband network that solely benefits Frontier, which took over Verizon's landline business in West Virginia on July 1.

In its application, the state promised to build a broadband network that would benefit government agencies and schools as well as 700,000 households and 110,000 businesses.

That's not happening, Martin said.

Instead, the project would only serve 1,000 "points of interest," he said. The state's plan would limit Internet speeds and make broadband service unaffordable, Martin said.

"If the state were to build a true middle-mile solution, then businesses and residential Internet customers would see a significant reduction in price, as well as an increase in quality, capacity and speed," Martin said. "Regretfully, the state chose to support a plan that relies on outdated telephone lines and a monopoly."

Martin also has asked the state Broadband Development Council to suspend the $126 million grant.

Manchin administration officials have repeatedly said that the state is spending the stimulus funds exactly as the grant stipulates. A state spokeswoman who has answered previous questions about Citynet's complaints could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

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

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