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Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012
Page: 1C

Staff writer

West Virginia's recent struggle to put federal stimulus-funded Internet routers into public facilities across the state has not slowed Frontier Communications' work to bring high-speed fiber-optic cable to schools, a Frontier engineer said Tuesday.

"Frontier does not have a role in router deployment," said Mark McKenzie, engineering manager with Frontier. "[The router problem] will not impact the construction of fiber."

Frontier has built 121 miles of fiber to K-12 schools in West Virginia under the federal economic stimulus project, according to a report. More than 470 schools are scheduled to receive a new fiber-optic connection.

"It's very encouraging to see the progress that's being made," said Wade Linger, state school board president. "Every month we're getting closer."

State school board members raised questions about the Internet computer routers Wednesday in response to recent Gazette reports that more than 300 of the devices remain in storage - nearly two years after the state purchased the equipment with $24 million in federal stimulus funds. The routers cost $22,600 each.

The Gazette also reported that state officials were putting the pricey routers in small schools, libraries and health-care centers, even though the high-powered equipment was designed for college campuses, medical centers and large corporations.

"We want to make sure the money is being spent right and efficiently," said Lowell Johnson, a state school board member.

Linger said the routers may be larger than necessary for elementary, middle and high schools, but would still work in those facilities. The schools require routers to connect to the fiber network that Frontier is building with the stimulus funds.

In March 2010, the state received a $126 million federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet in West Virginia. The state plans to bring fiber connections to more than 1,000 "community anchor institutions" - schools, libraries, health-care centers, state police detachments, county courthouses, 911 dispatch centers, jails and other public agency facilities.

In July 2010, the state purchased 1,064 Cisco routers.

Last week, 366 of those routers remained boxed-up in storage sites throughout the state, and 186 of the devices didn't have designated places to put them.

State Department of Education administrators also have raised questions over the size of the routers. Nonetheless, the department has distributed and installed the devices at a faster clip than most state agencies.

By last week, technicians had installed the high-end routers in 408 schools, according to a report. Other routers were delivered to schools, but await installation while workers build shelves and racks to hold the large devices.

"Most of the routers out there [unused] have nothing to do with the education system," Linger said.

Indeed, the state Office of Technology is storing the majority of unused routers - more than 200. The technology agency hopes to distribute the routers to jails, health-care clinics, economic development groups and other state agencies.

In other business Wednesday, state school board members:

n Put out for public comment several proposals that change athletic transfer rules and other policies that affect sports programs. Individuals will have 60 days to submit comments.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission's board previously voted to approve the changes.

One proposal would make the SSAC's athletic transfer rules apply equally to private and public schools. The change is designed to comply with a Monongalia circuit judge's ruling last December. A Morgantown parent challenged the SSAC's rules after his daughter transferred from University High School to Trinity Christian, a private school, and was ordered to sit out of athletics for a year.

Other changes clarify sports practice eligibility requirements and middle school athletic transfer rules, and mandate that coaches and student-athletes ejected from playoff games or games at the end of the regular season to serve suspensions during the postseason.

n Hired Kelly Watts as executive director of the Regional Education Service Agency III in Dunbar. RESA III serves Kanawha, Putnam, Boone and Putnam county schools. Watts has worked as a RESA II administrator in Huntington since 2005.

Reach Eric Eyre at or 304-348-4869.

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