Small electronic routers costing less than $500 evidently are large enough to broadcast Wi-Fi-type wireless Internet signals to computers and smartphones throughout facilities such as Kanawha County's main public library or Stonewall Jackson Middle School. (Home-size units can cost less than $50.)
Yet West Virginia Homeland Security officials blew $22,600 each on 1,064 powerful routers designed to serve entire university campuses or industrial complexes -- and are installing them in little public institutions as small as rural libraries with just one computer terminal.
What an absurd waste of $24 million in federal stimulus funds. Federal inspectors general or the U.S. Attorney's Office in Charleston should investigate this mess.
Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre uncovered these disturbing facts:
Two years ago, the state received the nation's largest broadband stimulus award: $126 million to bring fiber-optic cable to schools, libraries, clinics, police departments, courthouses, jails, 911 emergency dispatch centers and the like.
Jim Martin of CityNet commented: "The grant was not an equipment grant. It was to build fiber."
Nonetheless, state officials sought bids for huge routers of Cisco's 3945 series. John Dunlap of the state Office of Technology sent a warning email saying such large transmitter units "may be grossly oversized for several of the facilities." He was ignored. Five days later, Verizon Network Integration was given a contract to provide the too-large routers for $22,600 each.
Later, it was determined that many West Virginia public facilities already have broadband routers. So 366 of the costly devices now sit in warehouses, not yet installed anywhere.
Eyre reported than an online electronics firm offers new Cisco 3945 units for $5,800 each, although their list price is $13,000. Add-on features and adaptations apparently caused the low-bid price to reach $22,600.
State Homeland Security chief Jimmy Gianato defends this bizarre operation, contending that the excessive capacity may be needed as the cyber realm keeps advancing rapidly. Well, we would feel better if federal inspectors examined the West Virginia project to verify whether he's correct.