CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council's refusal to award grant money to projects that encourage rural residents to subscribe to high-speed Internet is a "profound disappointment" and shows a "lack of leadership," a Pendleton County nonprofit group said Thursday.
"If the council wasn't going to consider demand promotion projects, they should have had the courtesy to say so," said Douglas McConatha, executive director of Circleville-based Future Generations. "A lot of hard-working people wouldn't have wasted their time and money preparing these grant applications, and taxpayer money wouldn't have been wasted paying consultants to review and rank the applications."
Frontier Communications, which planned to partner with Future Generations, also criticized the council Thursday.
"It's regrettable the council's actions are depriving thousands of worthy West Virginians from having access to computers and Internet access," said Ken Arndt, Frontier's East Region president. "We are disappointed with the council's decision and hope it can find a way to fulfill its state-mandated mission by ultimately funding these demand projects."
Earlier this week, the Broadband Deployment Council voted to award $2.05 million to wireless Internet providers that plan to build towers and provide broadband service to new customers.
However, council members didn't award a dime to projects that promote broadband demand -- even though the governor-appointed board had an extra $1.7 million to distribute.
The council paid a Pennsylvania consulting group, L.R. Kimball, to score and rank project applications.
Future Generations requested more than $900,000 for four projects that would encourage people to sign up for broadband in Southern West Virginia.
Future Generations' proposals ranked highest among all applications. The consultant strongly recommended that the Broadband Deployment Council fund the Future Generations' projects.
In a split vote, the council rejected the recommendation, saying infrastructure projects -- fiber-optic broadband networks and wireless Internet towers -- should be funded first.
Some board members said it wouldn't make sense to fund broadband promotion projects in areas where high-speed Internet isn't available.
Council Chairman Dan O'Hanlon declined to comment Thursday.
The council has until Dec. 19 to distribute the $1.7 million in leftover funds, but no additional meetings have been scheduled for this month. The council could make grant money available again next year. Groups would have to re-apply for funds.