CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Office of Technology will consider using federal stimulus money to fund an $8.3 million Webster County broadband expansion project suggested by Frontier Communications, even though the company missed a deadline last week to submit the proposal.
Frontier seems to have a good excuse for its late submission.
The state sent its request for project ideas to a Frontier retail store in Ranson, Jefferson County -- not to Frontier's headquarters in Charleston.
"We don't normally receive communications to our headquarters through our retail store in Ranson," said Dan Page, a Frontier spokesman.
Earlier this month, the technology office solicited proposals for spending an estimated $9 million left over from a $126.3 million stimulus grant designed to expand high-speed Internet service in West Virginia.
The state must spend the entire grant amount by Feb. 13 -- or risk having to return unspent funds.
Last week, five companies and a state agency submitted project proposals -- everything from a $5 million wireless Internet expansion in central West Virginia to a $1.1 million tour bus that would travel the state to spread the word about the benefits of broadband.
Late last week, Frontier General Manager Dana Waldo sent a letter to the state Department of Administration, saying the company didn't find out about the state's request for broadband project ideas until Oct. 9 -- the last day to submit proposals. That same day, the Gazette also published a story about the state's plans to spend the $9 million in leftover grant funds.
State officials acknowledged this week that the Office of Technology's written request for project ideas was mistakenly sent to Frontier's retail store. The technology office gave the Ranson address to the state Purchasing Division, which mailed the letter to the retail shop.
"As part of normal practice, agencies may send the Purchasing Division a suggested listing of vendors who may be interested in a particular request," said Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration. "Frontier Communications out of Ranson was listed as one of the suggested vendors and was sent the request."
The vendor list included Citynet, Suddenlink, AT&T, Stratuswave and Alltel.
The state's online purchasing bulletin board posted the request for project ideas twice -- on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, Holley-Brown said. Frontier executives apparently did not see the postings.
Frontier hopes to use the $8.3 million in stimulus funds to extend fiber-optic cable to 3,700 homes in Webster Springs, Cowen and Hacker Valley. The Webster County residences would have some of the fastest Internet speeds in the state. The project would cost $2,200 per home.
"It would greatly benefit the citizens in these rural communities with bandwidth to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, continuing education, and strengthening these communities to compete in the global economy," Waldo wrote in a letter to the state.
Waldo added, "This project is even more unique because these rural areas generally lack the thriving business communities in most metropolitan areas."