CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lea Wolfe didn't know what to make of the huge Internet router that arrived unexpectedly at the Region 6 Planning and Development Council's office in Marion County last September.
The economic development agency hadn't ordered it. Nobody notified her office it would be receiving the equipment.
So she called UPS and shipped the router back to the state Office of Technology in Charleston.
"We didn't need it," Wolfe said of the $22,600 device, which the state purchased with federal stimulus funds. "It's much bigger than anything we need."
Days later, the router showed up again at Region 6's office. State officials had sent it back. They told Wolfe that the regional planning council needed the router -- that the agency must use it.
"It's now in the hallway under a table covered with papers," Wolfe said. "I have a $22,000 router that's collecting dust."
The Region 6 Council's stimulus-funded router isn't the only one collecting dust.
West Virginia has spent more than $450,000 from a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant to purchase routers and lay fiber to 10 of the state's 11 regional planning offices. However, not a single regional agency has opted to use the routers or connect to the fiber, according to planning council executives.
"Everybody's got them sitting off to the side," Wolfe said. "We don't know what to do with them. We never asked for them."
'It was something we couldn't use'
Nobody from the state asked whether the regional planning councils wanted fiber-optic Internet connections. Nobody picked up the telephone and gave the councils a call, agency officials said.
"It was something we couldn't use," said Jim Hall, executive director of the Region 6 Council in Fairmont. "We didn't want to be responsible for such an expensive piece of equipment."
Nonetheless, the state shipped routers to 10 of West Virginia's 11 planning councils. So far, Frontier has installed high-speed fiber-optic cable to six planning council offices, with plans to run fiber to the remaining four agencies by the end of the year.
The state's website for tracking the federal stimulus project lists the six regional planning councils as "100 percent complete."
"I'm not aware of any councils that are using the fiber," said Jim Mylott, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Regional Planning and Development Councils.
Planning council administrators said their agencies now pay $80 to $100 per month for broadband DSL service. They said the fiber connection could cost twice that -- or more. Additionally, the agencies can't afford to pay someone to install the routers, the administrators said.
The council executives said their existing Internet service works just fine. Most regional planning councils have eight or fewer employees.
"We told [the Office of Technology] we're just a small office," Hall recalled. "This router was too big for our office, so we sent it back."
The Gazette-Mail has reported that the "enterprise-class" routers were designed to serve a minimum of 500 users or Internet connections, up to tens of thousands of users.
"We thought someone else maybe could make better use of it," Hall said. "Maybe a university or some place like that."
At the Region 5 Council office in Parkersburg, two engineers from the Office of Technology stopped by the agency to inspect the unused router and fiber connection earlier this year, said Mylott, who also serves as the agency's director. They left without installing the router.
"We're still waiting for them to hook it up," Mylott said. "This is a major project. I figure we're not at the top of the list."
In 2010, West Virginia was awarded a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet across the state. The planning councils are among 1,064 public facilities receiving routers and fiber. The state purchased routers for each site - at a total cost of $24 million.
Later this year, the state will start sending technicians to agencies that can't afford to install the routers on their own, said West Virginia homeland security chief Jimmy Gianato, who heads the $126.3 million project.
The state purchased the routers two years ago -- in July 2010.
"A lot of these agencies don't have [information technology] staff," Gianato said last week. "We're going to make sure we get out there to get the routers programmed and everything running. We're going to reach out to help these folks."