CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citynet CEO Jim Martin asked state lawmakers Monday to authorize a comprehensive audit of a $42 million fiber-optic cable network that Frontier Communications built with federal stimulus funds in West Virginia.
The state initially asked Frontier to install 915 miles of fiber to hundreds of public facilities across the state, but scaled back the project to 675 miles. Nonetheless, the state plans to pay Frontier the entire $42 million.
Frontier has charged the state about $57,800 per mile for fiber construction. Martin said his Bridgeport-based company and other Internet providers install fiber for about $30,000 a mile in West Virginia.
"We encourage someone to go in and conduct a complete audit of this and make sure we did get what we paid for," Martin told a joint House-Senate technology committee Monday.
After the meeting, Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred declined to comment on whether his office was reviewing the fiber construction project.
Earlier this year, the Legislative Auditor released scathing reports about the state's use of federal stimulus funds to buy oversize Internet routers and build an emergency communications tower network. The state tapped a $126.3 million federal grant for the fiber, routers and towers.
"We've already had a 'routergate,' we had a 'towergate,' we don't need a 'fibergate,'" Martin said at Monday's meeting at the Capitol. "Let's get in front of this thing now and make sure we pay it right so we don't look bad after the fact."
Gale Given, the West Virginia government's chief technology officer, defended Frontier's charges Monday. Given said the state expected to pay Frontier $47,200 for every mile of fiber installed, but wound up spending $57,800 -- 22 percent more than budgeted.
"It's somewhat higher," she said, adding that some companies charge as much as $100,000 per mile to erect fiber in rural areas.
State lawmakers invited Frontier executive Dana Waldo to speak at Monday's interim meeting, but Waldo was out of town and unable to attend, a company spokesman said.
Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, asked whether House and Senate leaders could compel Waldo to answer their questions and Martin's allegations at a future legislative meeting.
"I thought Mr. Waldo was going to be here today. We asked him to be here today," Guthrie said. "That's not a light request. We're a legislative committee.
"We're running into a brick wall that's either purposefully being put up, or we're really incompetent," Guthrie continued. "At this point, we need to compel testimony if we can."
Frontier spokesman Dan Page declined to comment on Martin's accusations Monday, but Page released a four-page letter that rebuts much of Martin's criticism.