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July 28, 2014

West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council Project Finds Itself Cash-Strapped



By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer



It's become an almost axiomatic conversation, as most anyone who starts out the two-part conversation with something like “why can't I get high-speed Internet at a decent price where I live?” will usually find him- or herself followed up with the response in the vein of “because it's really, really expensive.” Some don't believe that, however, and others discover it the hard way, as the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council seems to have discovered in a report from the Charleston Gazette.

The report suggests that a project was put in place to launch a fiber-optic network owned by the state of West Virginia—rather, the West Virginia Network (WVNET) state agency—that would in turn help boost access possibilities for both Pocahontas and Randolph counties. But the project found an unpleasant snag in that the council learned it will likely fall short of the necessary funding in order to make the project happen. Recently, the council voted 3-2 to spend the group's remaining funds to establish the network, but soon after found thanks to state officials and a consultant that the group didn't have near the funds it believed it did. While the council believed, reportedly, that it had an estimated $690,000 in play, the findings from the state officials discovered that the actual amount was $329,000, or less than half the amount believed. Worse, the state officials believed that that $329,000 in question was likely to be quickly burned up by a combination of legal fees and expenses related to consultants.

This may not be such bad news, however, as the project in mind would have reportedly been duplicating a fairly large-scale effort in the works from Frontier Communications, though some have called Frontier's fiber lines suffering a distinct lack of “open access”, meaning that competitors aren't being allowed to route service through the fiber in question.

Perhaps worse was that the 3-2 vote represented, at last report, just a third of the total council. Two members reportedly recused themselves from proceedings, and another listening to the meeting by telephone didn't add a vote. One of the council members—Elaine Harris, reportedly—was heard to remark “We shouldn't have been voting on this. The nuts and bolts of this are not there.”

This particular action seems to have been something of a disaster, but what it really underscores is the kind of expenses involved in setting up this kind of project. A 40 mile stretch—which is what the project seems to have encompassed—was set to be addressed by a sum of $690,000, and isn't sufficient to be addressed with the council's remaining sum of $329,000. While this doesn't take into account things like property issues, local topography, or anything like that, the fact remains that $329,000 isn't going to be enough to tackle this. These are substantial projects, and the return on such investments may mean that a breakeven point wouldn't be reached for years. There's been quite a bit of work around wireless Internet access options, and those may have some potential to do the job of connecting the otherwise unconnected, but even here, those would have to be augmented considerably to allow access to even the simplest functions like streaming video or voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service.

Getting broadband where it needs to be isn't simple, and as we've discovered here, isn't really inexpensive either. But with millions of unconnected or otherwise under-connected out there, there needs to be a better solution on hand to address this growing digital divide.




Edited by Maurice Nagle
 
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