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Broadband Grant Findings 'flawed,' Citynet President Says

by Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette. (12/5/2010)

A federal agency's recent review of the state's use of a $126 million grant to expand high-speed Internet in West Virginia was "cursory at best and not conducted in a credible manner," Citynet President Jim Martin said Monday.

Last week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration rejected Martin's repeated allegations that state Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes and Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato weren't spending the federal stimulus funds as the grant stipulated.

On Monday, Martin called the federal agency's findings "flawed" and criticized NTIA Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling, who oversaw the review of Martin's complaints.

"His agency had the choice of thoroughly evaluating a request from a company [Citynet] that employs many West Virginians and is a leader in technology deployment, or defaulting to the whims of political officials," Martin said Monday in a prepared statement. "Secretary Strickling took the path of least resistance."

Martin alleged that NTIA officials refused to meet with Citynet executives before concluding that West Virginia officials did nothing wrong.

The state is using the stimulus funds to expand broadband to more than 1,000 "anchor institutions," including health-care facilities, schools, libraries, government offices and public safety agencies.

"Given President Obama's commitment to the American public that stimulus funds would be spent in a transparent manner, it is disappointing [NTIA officials] would not have taken the time to meet with Citynet to discuss our concerns," Martin said.

He said the NTIA's findings wouldn't stop him from continuing to challenge the state's use of the $126 million grant.

Martin has alleged that the state is spending the stimulus funds to build a broadband network that solely benefits Frontier Communications, a Citynet competitor. Martin wants the state to build an "open-access middle-mile" network that Citynet and other telecommunications companies could tap in to.

The NTIA concluded that Martin's accusations were "unfounded and untrue," according to a six-page letter released last week. The agency said state officials were spending the stimulus funds appropriately.

Martin plans to present his complaints to the West Virginia Broadband Council on Dec. 15. He wants the council to suspend the $126 million grant.

Martin said the administration of Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has been more willing to listen to his concerns than officials under former Gov. Joe Manchin. Martin said former Cabell County Circuit Judge Dan O'Hanlon, who was recently appointed to the Broadband Council, was working to resolve the dispute.

"We will continue to advocate for the best interests of the citizens of the state," Martin said. "In addition, we intend to educate and work with policy leaders in the state on the need for a competitive, vibrant, high-speed Internet infrastructure that has capacity to meet the needs of the new economy of the 21st century."

Reach Eric Eyre at or 304-348-4869.

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