A federal agency has rejected Citynet's allegations that the state is misusing a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant designed to expand high-speed Internet in West Virginia.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, said Citynet President Jim Martin's recent accusations about the state's broadband grant application and spending are "unfounded" and "untrue," according to a six-page letter sent to Citynet this week.
"Let me be clear," Anthony Wilhelm, a NTIA director wrote to Martin. "NTIA's goal is to make this project succeed in accordance with the grant terms, not to derail it."
In September, Martin asked the federal broadband agency to suspend the grant, alleging that state Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes and Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato weren't spending the stimulus funds as the grant stipulated.
In the response letter, Wilhelm scolded Martin, saying the Citynet CEO mischaracterized the grant's intent and ignored "multiple statements in the state's grant application."
Wilhelm said the state officials never proposed bringing broadband directly to homes and businesses as Martin asserted in a complaint letter to the NTIA.
Wilhelm, who encouraged Martin to read the state's grant application, said the project will expand broadband to more than 1,000 "anchor institutions," such as schools, libraries, government offices and public safety agencies.
The project also will include "interconnection points" from which Citynet and other Internet providers can connect to the broadband network and serve customers, Wilhelm said.
"In your correspondence you make a variety of other assertions that likewise seem to misunderstand our rules and [West Virginia's] application," Wilhelm wrote.
He said Citynet has no standing to demand that the NTIA suspend the $126 million grant.
"The executive offices of West Virginia satisfied the rules set forth by NTIA, consistent with the statutory framework, following a rigorous review and due diligence process," Wilhelm wrote.
Wilhelm also took issue with Martin's allegations that the broadband project would have no economic benefits in West Virginia. The state plans to build 12 microwave towers, upgrade 84 existing towers and add a 2,400-mile fiber optic network, Wilhelm said.
" ...That means jobs for West Virginians with resulting economic benefits for the state," wrote Wilhelm, who heads the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program at the NTIA.
Wilhelm also dismissed Martin's allegations that Frontier Communications, which is building the high-speed Internet network, would charge broadband connection rates that public agencies wouldn't be able to afford. Frontier is negotiating lower rates, Wilhelm said.
Citynet officials said Wednesday they would respond publicly to Wilhelm's letter "within 48 hours."
"Citynet has received a letter from the NTIA and is reviewing it," said Tom Susman, a consultant hired by the Clarksburg-based telecommunications company.
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the NTIA letter confirmed what West Virginia officials have been saying all along - that they're complying with the grant's requirements to the letter.
"The broadband grant has been thoroughly reviewed and the latest response by the NTIA acknowledging the state's compliance allows us to continue to move forward," Tomblin said in a prepared statement.
"Broadband will continue to be a significant portion of expanding the state's infrastructure, and I am confident that state officials will continue to work diligently to ensure that this broadband project is carried out in accordance with all grant requirements."
Martin also has asked the West Virginia Broadband Council to suspend the $126.3 million grant. The council has set aside 20 minutes at its Dec. 15 meeting to hear Martin's allegations.
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