But ICF found that Frontier, with state officials' blessing, is building a "private" network that shuts out competitors.
The fragmented "last-mile" network runs fiber "tails" from public facilities to street-corner telephone poles. The network doesn't connect the public buildings to each other, or back to Frontier's "central offices," telecommunication hubs where other broadband providers could access the network.
In its memo, ICF called Frontier's stimulus-funded fiber "unusable by other parties." The consultant suggested the state require Frontier to run open-access fiber from the government facilities to the central offices. That hasn't happened.
"As designed, the fiber extensions only connect the community anchor institutions to a private network that does not provide equal opportunity access," ICF's report says. "Without interconnection agreements, the network is not functional for other providers, the state or other users."
Frontier has yet to sign a single agreement with a competitor that wants to tap the fiber network.
"The report basically says they spent all this money to lock out all other companies and any open access," said Fisher, a Braxton County farmer who serves on the state broadband council.
ICF found that no other state or organization that received stimulus funds built a broadband network that resembles West Virginia's. Other states constructed middle-mile networks that the public could use and that link communities.
'Excessive fiber counts' drive up construction costs
ICF blasts Frontier for "inadequate project documentation" that fails to comply with federal grant rules.
The consultants call on Frontier to take "corrective actions" and advise state officials not to reimburse Frontier for "current invoices and design." State officials have used the stimulus funds to pay Frontier more than $15 million since April 2012.
Alsop said Thursday that state officials met with Frontier, and the company now submits proper invoices and documentation. "There's a process in place now to make sure there aren't any over-bills," he said.
ICF's report also alleges that Frontier installed "excessive fiber counts" - three to six times above industry standards - that drove up construction costs.
"As the steward of the broadband grant, West Virginia cannot be put into the position of improperly using public funds and cannot be a party to Frontier decisions that subvert, appear to subvert, or are not in compliance with federal regulations," ICF warned in the memo.
In response, Tomblin's aides, at the time, questioned Frontier executives about the number of fiber strands the company was running to the government facilities, according to emails released Thursday.
Frontier notified the governor's office that the state's "grant implementation team" -- headed by Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato -- directed the company to install the extra fiber strands to bolster "future capacity" for Internet service at the public buildings. Frontier said the cost of installing the additional strands wasn't significant.
"The overall cost to the project itself is negligible," Waldo wrote in an email to the governor's office in April of last year.
The following month, Frontier also provided the state with an "external audit" of its work on the $126.3 million broadband project. The audit - paid for by Frontier -- found "no material deficiencies."
In the report, ICF said state officials have few options for fixing the private-network problem they created with Frontier. The report suggests that Frontier's competitors get together to build their own "middle-mile, open-access" network that would connect to Frontier's fragmented fiber network.
But the consultants go on to say, "From any reasonable practical point of view, this is not feasible ..."
In November 2010, Citynet President Jim Martin wrote a letter to federal officials, alleging that West Virginia was using the stimulus funds to build a private broadband network for Frontier. President Obama's telecommunications chief, Lawrence Strickling, dismissed Martin's allegations. Strickling heads the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is overseeing West Virginia's $126.3 million project.
"Let me be clear," Strickling wrote to Martin in 2010. "NTIA's goal is to make this project succeed in accordance with the grant terms, not to derail."
Strickling's office would not comment Thursday.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.