Where's the accountability?'
In March 2010, the state received a $126 million federal stimulus grant to bring fiber-optic cable to schools, libraries, health-care facilities, State Police detachments, 911 dispatch centers, county courthouses, jails and libraries.
It was the largest broadband award given to any state.
West Virginia's broadband grant application mentions nothing about router purchases. Routers steer data, such as email and web pages, from one computer network to another.
"The grant was not an equipment grant. It was to build fiber," said Jim Martin, CEO of Citynet, a Bridgeport-based Internet provider. "These routers were not needed and could have been purchased through other funding sources. Where's the accountability?"
Gianato said federal officials have approved all equipment purchases under the grant.
"The grant included paying for everything except the recurring cost of [Internet] service," he said. "It doesn't pay the monthly bill."
A handful of West Virginia facilities -- called "community anchor institutions" under the federal broadband grant -- that initially were scheduled to receive routers, such as Charleston Area Medical Center, might have required the powerful equipment. However, state broadband project leaders later discovered that the facilities already had fiber-optic connections and suitable routers.
'T1' cards add $1M to price
The routers alone cost the state $7,800 each, but "add-ons" -- additional equipment that came with the devices -- boosted the price tag by $14,800.
"It's like buying a car," Gianato said. "You get a lot of options with the car."
An online Cisco retailer was selling new 3945 series routers for $5,800 last week. The routers have a list price of $13,000 each.
Verizon was the lower of two bidders for the $24 million router sale. Hebron, Ky.-based Pomeroy bid $24.8 million for the 1,064 Cisco routers.
State officials requested that the devices include a "T1 interface card" that would allow schools, libraries and other sites to use the high-capacity routers with their existing copper-wire T1 broadband connections -- while waiting to hook up to fiber optic cable.
The adapter cards added $1.08 million to the purchase price.
"T1 cards were used to hook the existing lines into the new routers until the fiber could be installed and the lines switched to the new ones," said Cordeiro, spokeswoman with the state Department of Education. "If this had not been done, the routers could not have been operational with the existing lines while waiting for the complete fiber runs."
West Virginia paid the extra cost because it purchased the 1,064 routers all at the same time, before running fiber cable to the public facilities.
The state also has delivered hundreds of routers to sites -- mostly schools -- that already had fiber-optic connections. So those routers' adapters were never used or needed to connect to a T1 line.
Gianato said the T1 cards have other uses -- video conferencing, wireless Internet and "voice over Internet protocol."
"I'm not an expert on the technical side," he said, "but these have all kinds of capabilities and applications."
'We're in the dark'
West Virginia Library Commission technicians are installing 176 Cisco routers at public libraries.
Library officials also have raised questions about the size of the routers.
"[Gianato] said it was important to have that capacity in case it was needed for homeland security reasons," Goff said. "In some places, the library may be the only anchor institution in the community."
That's not the case in Hurricane. The public library stands next to Hurricane Middle School -- which also has a new $22,600 router.
Putnam County Libraries Director Steve Christo, who stopped at the Hurricane branch last week, said Frontier workers recently brought fiber cable into the building. However, the library's high-end Cisco router is still connected to a T1 broadband line because the phone company hasn't extended fiber to the area.
Christo said he has no idea when the Hurricane library will get a high-speed fiber connection to serve its four public computer terminals.
"I don't know exactly where [the routers] are from. They're not the Library Commission's," Christo said, before noticing a router tag with the letters "AARA," which stands for American Recovery and Restoration Act -- the formal name for the 2009 federal stimulus package. "We're in the dark about this."
Gianato said he has no regrets about the router purchase.
"I think we made the right decision," he said. "We have positioned our state to expand and move into the next generation of technology."
Coming Monday in The Charleston Gazette: Why are hundreds of the routers still unused?
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.