CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration has abruptly cancelled a statewide "broadband summit," citing ongoing scrutiny of West Virginia's use of a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet.
In late February, the Department of Commerce sent an email "blast" about the conference to about 800 people. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin planned to speak at the event. A conference website page was created, and postcard invitations were sent out.
Eight days later, though, Commerce officials distributed a second email, saying, "The broadband summit is postponed until a later date. Watch this site for future information, dates and locations."
"There were scheduling issues," said Tomblin chief of staff Rob Alsop, who declined to elaborate. "It will be rescheduled."
Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette provided a more detailed explanation last week.
"It's supposed to be a technical discussion of broadband in the state, and not a discussion about the [$126.3 million broadband] grant," Burdette said. "We didn't want the two confused."
Last month, the state Legislative Auditor released a scathing report about the government's decision to use the stimulus funds to purchase oversized Internet routers. The audit followed a series of reports in the Gazette-Mail about the $24 million router purchase.
The $22,600 machines were designed to serve a minimum of 500 Internet connections, but the state installed the pricey equipment in small schools and libraries with only a handful of computer terminals.
The legislative audit found that the government wasted at least $7.9 million -- and up to $15 million -- in stimulus funds by buying the high-capacity routers. Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred was not invited to the broadband conference.
Tomblin recently announced plans to set up a task force and review more than 1,000 sites that received routers. The review is expected to take months.
"We didn't want people showing up at the summit and thinking there was going to be a discussion about routers and the [broadband] project," Burdette said.
The cancelled broadband summit -- titled "West Virginia Broadband: Investing in the Future"-- was scheduled for March 27 to 29 at the Charleston Marriott Town Center.
Conference organizers planned to spotlight successful broadband projects and a mapping program that shows where high-speed Internet is available in West Virginia.
Panels were scheduled to discuss broadband policy, public safety, economic development, digital learning and "e-government."