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Nearly 70 stimulus-funded routers unused

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's Office of Technology could wind up with dozens of high-capacity Internet routers and no place to put them.

Amid a review ordered by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the state technology agency reported this week that 69 routers - valued at a combined $1.4 million - still hadn't been assigned to a government facility as part of a statewide high-speed Internet expansion project funded by the federal stimulus. Fifty-four of those routers remain boxed up in storage at the state Capitol - three years after they were purchased with stimulus funds.

State officials have put the word out about the unused equipment, but they've had few takers of late.

"I do expect there will be some routers left over after the site review," said state Chief Technology Officer Gale Given in an email to the Gazette. "As far as how many and the disposition, I'm still working through that."

State officials are scrambling to find homes for the unused routers, following a scathing Legislative Auditor's report in February that found the state wasted at least $7.9 million - and up to $15 million - on oversized routers, which funnel data from one computer network to another. The state audit, and a previous federal audit, determined that the state could have purchased smaller, less expensive routers for hundreds of sites.

In response, Tomblin directed state officials to reconsider where they've installed the high-capacity Cisco 3945 series routers paid for with $24 million in stimulus funds.

On Wednesday, Cisco reiterated its promise to take back routers if West Virginia can't find an appropriate place to put them.

"Cisco still plans to take back any 3945 series routers identified as surplus by the state's site assessment," said John Earnhardt, a Cisco spokesman. "We are working to our customer's timetable and continue to talk with them about the number of routers and how this will happen. We're confident that we'll reach a solution that meets the needs of the [federal agency that's overseeing the broadband project] and the state of West Virginia."

According to the state technology office, 23 of 92 unused routers have been assigned to public facilities in West Virginia, but haven't been shipped yet.

Sites scheduled to receive routers include a private doctor's office in Buckhannon, a culinary institute in Huntington, and the Parkersburg Parole Office.

Meanwhile, the Pendleton County High School building is scheduled to receive two additional routers funded by the stimulus, according to an Office of Technology spreadsheet obtained by the Gazette. 

The school, which is located in Franklin, initially received a router in May 2011. Two more routers have been assigned to the building -- one to a school-based health clinic and another to Eastern Community & Technical College's branch campus at the school, according to list of router destinations. 

In February, the legislative audit criticized state officials for installing six routers at sites in the city of Franklin, all located within three-quarters of a mile of each other.

Given said Thursday that the Pendleton High School building would not receive additional routers. She said the router list was inaccurate or outdated.

 The state has already shipped hundreds of the Cisco 3945 series routers to "community anchor institutions" - schools, libraries, planning agencies, health centers, State Police detachments, county courthouses, state agencies and other public facilities. Many routers have been installed.

A Tomblin-appointed committee - called the Broadband Coordination Team - is reviewing the sites and determining whether the public facilities need the high-powered routers.

The state is considering swapping out the larger routers with smaller ones, or possibly asking for refunds and exchanges from Cisco. The review was supposed to take 30 days, but has lasted weeks longer.

"Overall, we're making great progress," said Amy Shuler Goodwin, a Tomblin spokeswoman who serves on the committee. "We're getting detailed information from all the sites. We believe we're seeing a lot of positive momentum."

In addition to the committee's review, state inspectors are traveling to every site to check router serial numbers and ensure the devices are properly marked as state property. 

As of this week, the "compliance team" inspectors had completed 650 inventory reviews, according to an online report filed by the state.

After the reviews, Tomblin's office plans to set up a task force to help public facilities utilize the high-capacity routers' capabilities. The group is expected to deliver a report to Tomblin and state lawmakers by Jan. 1.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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