CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council is poised to award millions of dollars to companies so they can provide high-speed Internet service in rural areas that already have it, Frontier Communications executive Dana Waldo said Wednesday.
The council postponed plans to distribute $4 million in grants, after Waldo informed the board that Frontier provides wireline, or DSL, broadband coverage in multiple areas where competing wireless telecommunications firms have applied for state funds.
Waldo, who serves on the governor-appointed council, cited state code that prohibits the board from awarding grants for projects in rural areas that already have broadband service.
"I note that many of those areas are currently served or can be reasonably served by Frontier," said Waldo, who heads the company's West Virginia operations. "Are we spinning our wheels? I'm not comfortable with this."
At Wednesday's meeting, council members reviewed two-dozen projects that a consulting firm had previously ranked.
The council voted to direct the consultants to score and rank the projects a second time based on new information that Frontier has provided about its broadband service in rural areas.
The broadband council initially asked for telecommunications firms to disclose their broadband service areas in West Virginia two years ago. Most companies, including Frontier, complied, but the information apparently wasn't updated in recent months.
After the council posted a list of grant applicants in September and a review committee ranked projects, Frontier executives sent an email to the consultants, saying the company already offered broadband service in many areas where competitors were seeking grant money.
At Wednesday's meeting, the consultants, who work for Pennsylvania-based L.R. Kimball, said Frontier didn't provide the latest broadband coverage maps until after the projects had been scored.
"That consideration was absent when they were ranked," Waldo acknowledged.
The council plans to vote on the projects -- based on new rankings -- on Dec. 12.
The state Legislature allocated the broadband project grant money and established the council four years ago.
"We need the best possible information of where broadband exists and where it doesn't," said Dan O'Hanlon, the council's chairman.
Broadband council member Lee Fisher, who's affiliated with a Braxton County project seeking a $57,500 grant to build wireless towers, said companies such as Frontier say they provide coverage to rural areas, but some neighborhoods, or "pockets," within those "covered" areas might not have access to broadband. Fisher has recused himself from discussions about the Braxton project.