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BROADBAND PANELIST RESIGNS SEAT


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Thursday, February 24, 2011
Page: 5A
Byline: ERIC EYRE STAFF WRITER


A Citynet executive resigned from the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council Wednesday night, after holding a seat on the board illegally for more than two years.


Mike Friloux, a Citynet vice president and vocal critic of the state's broadband expansion plans, faxed his resignation letter to acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who plans to appoint a replacement.


Earlier this week, The Charleston Gazette reported that Friloux was serving on the council as a "general public" representative - a position that requires West Virginia residency. Friloux lives in Tulsa, Okla.


The broadband council's general public member also is supposed to represent consumers. Earlier this week, Friloux said he thought he was representing Citynet and other telecommunications providers as a council member.


In his resignation letter Wednesday, Friloux said he did not know of the residency requirement. "I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to serve the administration, the council and the citizens of West Virginia in my role as a council member," Friloux wrote. "I have given significant time and effort to this cause and remain passionate that the broadband challenges in West Virginia can be addressed with proactive policies."


"The decision by the acting governor to correct an oversight of the previous governor represents a victory for West Virginia's general public," said Paul E. Miller, an analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, a think tank that recently released a report about the state's need to expand broadband service. "Broadband represents the future of West Virginia economic development, health care, education and civic engagement, and the general public deserves to have a voice at the table."


Citynet spokesman Tom Susman said Wednesday that Friloux volunteered to resign from the council, but will still speak out against the state's current broadband expansion plans.


Friloux and Citynet President Jim Martin have alleged that the state is using the $126.3 million federal grant to build a network that solely benefits Frontier Communications, a Citynet competitor.


"They're going to continue the charge," Susman said. "This is not about Mike Friloux. This is about broadband and building a middle-mile network and economic development."


The broadband council meets at 9 a.m. today in Building 6 at the state Capitol Complex.


Tomblin plans to replace Friloux, said spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor. A handful of candidate names already have been submitted, she said, but Tomblin hasn't set a deadline.


On Wednesday, Susman reiterated Friloux's assertions that he believed he was serving as a telecommunications industry representative on the board.


On his broadband council "membership information sheet," Friloux marked "yes" when asked if he represented the general public. However, he also marked "yes" when asked if he represented "a telecommunications provider who provides broadband services."


Records obtained by the Gazette also show that Manchin's office sent Friloux a copy of a Feb. 24, 2009 letter that states Friloux "will serve the board by representing the general public."


Earlier this week, Friloux said he needed time to find the paperwork before he could comment on his broadband council assignment.


"He was on the council because he's an expert and works for Citynet," Miller said Wednesday. "At the end of the day, a person should know why they're sitting on a board. You should understand whose interests you're defending."


Friloux has worked as Citynet's vice president of business development since 2008. Before that, he was chief operating officer for Tulsa, Okla.-based Citynet Fiber Network, Citynet's predecessor, which developed and operated an 8,000-mile fiber optic network that passed through West Virginia and neighboring states.


In 2008, Manchin, now a U.S. senator, established the broadband council to oversee West Virginia's broadband expansion plans. Manchin appointed Friloux to the 11-member board in September 2008.


Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


Earlier this week, a former Manchin aide said he could not remember how Friloux was appointed to the board as a general public member, even though Friloux was ineligible as an out-of-state resident.


For months, Friloux and Martin have assailed state officials for their use of $126.3 million in federal stimulus funds to bring broadband to health-care facilities, schools, libraries and other public agencies. The Citynet executives asked federal officials to suspend the grant, but they declined to do so.


They said the state's broadband plan wouldn't bring high-speed Internet to a single household or business in West Virginia. Under the state's plan, Frontier would own the broadband network after it's built.


Friloux and Martin have said the state should use the $126.3 million to build an "open-middle mile network" that Citynet and other telecommunications companies could tap into.



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