CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After being sharply criticized for installing high-capacity Internet routers at smaller public facilities, state officials overseeing West Virginia's $126.3 million high-speed broadband expansion project have started to ship many of the devices to universities and community colleges, according to a report.
Nearly half of the 100 routers recently distributed from the state's router stockpile went to higher education institutions and affiliated research centers. Marshall University alone picked up 20 routers, with plans to install them primarily at medical facilities.
"Many institutions are afraid to accept these routers in fear of possible negative PR," said Jan Fox, Marshall's chief information officer, in an email to the Gazette. "What an even bigger tragedy to the [broadband project] issue if the locations that really need these devices will not accept the transfer."
In February, the West Virginia Legislative Auditor released a report that found state government officials wasted at least $7.9 million -- and up to $15 million -- by purchasing oversized Internet routers with federal stimulus funds.
The state installed most of the high-capacity routers at small libraries and rural schools, even though the router manufacturer, Cisco, recommends the devices for college campuses and large businesses. In response to the audit, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered a review of more than 1,000 sites that received routers, which cost $22,600 each. That review is ongoing.
When the state first started distributing routers in late 2010, West Virginia universities and community colleges were left off the list of locations scheduled to receive the high-priced devices. But now the state is sending the routers to numerous higher education institutions, according to West Virginia's latest report to the federal agency funding the state's $126.3 million project.
Community and technical colleges, which became independent from their four-year college affiliates several years ago, recently received about two-dozen routers. The two-year colleges are installing the routers at their main campuses, and at branch campuses located at high schools.
"When they split from their colleges, they needed to completely rebuild their information technology infrastructure," said Dan O'Hanlon, executive director of WVNET, the state's Internet services provider. "Not only did most colleges ask for a couple of routers to replace old ones, almost every community and technical college needed all new routers for every site, and most have multiple locations."