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FEDS APPROVE STATE'S $126.3M BROADBAND CATCH-UP PLAN


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Page: 3A
Byline: ERIC EYRE STAFF WRITER


Federal officials have approved West Virginia's plan to get a $126.3 million high-speed Internet expansion project back on schedule.


The National Telecommunications and Information Administration signed off on the state's "mitigation" plan last week, state Homeland Security chief Jimmy Gianato said Monday.


"We're satisfied, Frontier Communications is satisfied and the NTIA is satisfied that we now have a plan in place that will accomplish the goals and get this project completed on time," Gianato said. "We've been working very diligently the past two weeks."


The broadband expansion project, which critics have assailed since its inception, fell significantly behind schedule last summer, prompting state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple to write a letter to Gianato and others about the "lack of progress."


The federal government ordered the state to draw up a plan to catch up on the project.


State officials blamed some of the delays on the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, saying the disaster caused a worldwide shortage of fiber optic cable.


Last month, Frontier pledged to assign more workers to the project to ensure it's completed on schedule.


The state must finish the project by February 2013 or risk losing unspent funds. West Virginia was award the $126.3 million in federal stimulus money in 2010.


The state is using the bulk of the grant funds to bring high-speed Internet service or improve existing service at "community anchor institutions" - libraries, schools, state agencies, emergency centers, fire departments and health-care facilities throughout West Virginia.


The state recently reported that Frontier has installed 95.3 miles of fiber optic cable. About 16 miles of fiber was put in last week.


The state initially planned to bring broadband to 1,062 public facilities, but state officials later learned that some of the buildings - mostly schools - already had high-speed Internet.


About 300 of those facilities with existing service have received new wireless routers, according to a report released last week.


State officials have asked federal officials whether they can bring fiber optic cable to public buildings that weren't on the initial list. About 180 sites would be added.


"We don't think there will be a problem with that," Gianato said. "They'll be board of education facilities, higher ed sites and medical facilities."


The state also reported that engineering plans have been completed for the installation of an additional 270 miles of fiber optic cable.


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


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