CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A consulting firm has been tapped to review how state officials are spending more than $126 million in federal economic stimulus funds to expand high-speed Internet in West Virginia, state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said Monday.
"At the end of the day, I suspect we've made some mistakes," Burdette said. "I'm reading stuff in your stories and learning stuff in the process."
Earlier this week, the Gazette reported that the state of West Virginia is using $24 million in stimulus money to put more than 1,000 high-powered Internet routers in small libraries, elementary schools and health clinics, even though the equipment is designed to serve major research universities, medical centers and large corporations.
The routers cost $22,600 each.
"If those routers are bigger than we need, then we need to figure out what do we do about it," Burdette said. "Where do we go from here? Let's figure out how we can use them."
In March, the state Department of Commerce hired Fairfax, Va.-based ICF International to analyze West Virginia's existing broadband infrastructure and to provide advice to Burdette and the governor's office.
ICF's assignment has been expanded to include a review of the $126.3 million federal stimulus grant, Burdette said. The review is expected to include a financial audit.
"We need guidance from folks who aren't trying to sell us something," Burdette said.
Burdette said he doesn't want the consultants to point fingers and dwell on past decisions.
Instead, Burdette said ICF's consultants would be asked to provide a roadmap to help the state maximize the stimulus money and improve broadband access across West Virginia.
"I don't want to spend a lot of time on things we cannot change," Burdette said. "If we made mistakes, then we need to look at how do we take lemons and make lemonade."
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 detachment, 911 dispatch centers, county courthouses, jails and libraries. It was the largest federal broadband award given to any state.
"The grant application was put together in record time," Burdette said. "I don't know if the decisions were the right ones or the wrong ones. I want somebody to come in and say, 'This is what has taken place and this is what we should do.' "
The state purchased the Cisco series 3945 routers in July 2010, even though a state Office of Technology administrator warned that the pricey devices "may be grossly oversized," according to an email obtained by the Gazette. Department of Education and Library Commission officials also raised questions about the size of the routers.
Burdette said, in hindsight, state officials should have hired a consultant before purchasing equipment and starting the broadband expansion project.