Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin directed state officials Thursday to reconsider where they've installed hundreds of high-capacity Internet routers paid for with $24 million in federal stimulus funds.
The directive follows a series of Gazette reports, and state and federal audits that found the state placed oversized routers in hundreds of public facilities. State and federal lawmakers also have slammed the router deal in recent days.
Tomblin plans to appoint a group - made up of technology experts from state government and the private sector - to examine more than 1,100 public facilities across the state and determine whether the sites need the high-powered routers. The devices cost $22,600 each. The review will last 30 days.
"We're going to look at the sites and say, 'It's justified, or it's not justified,'" said Rob Alsop, Tomblin's chief of staff. "We're going to go try and fix what needs to be fixed."
The state already has shipped hundreds of the Cisco 3945 series routers to "community anchor institutions" - schools, libraries, planning agencies, health centers, State Police detachments, county courthouses, state agencies and other public facilities. Many routers have been installed.
The state is considering swapping out the large routers with smaller ones, or possibly asking for refunds and exchanges from Cisco, Alsop said.
On Thursday, Cisco said it would take back routers if West Virginia can't find an appropriate place to put them.
"The state of West Virginia is an important customer for Cisco, and we are focused on their satisfaction," said John Earnhardt, a Cisco spokesman. "The positive impact of broadband infrastructure on education, job creation and economic development is well established, and we are committed to working with the state to realize these benefits for the people of West Virginia, now and in the future."
Alsop said he talked with Cisco CEO John Chambers, a West Virginia native, and the company also has agreed to extend router warranties an additional three years at no cost.
In July 2010, the state purchased 1,164 Cisco routers, but many remain boxed up in storage. The state paid $8 million for a five-year warranty on the routers. The three-year extension requires Cisco to provide free maintenance on the routers through 2016.
"It's a significant commitment from Cisco," Alsop said. "It helps future-proof some of the issues we have."
Tomblin also announced Thursday he plans to set up a task force to help public facilities utilize the high-capacity routers' capabilities.
The task force, which will include a Cisco representative, won't start its work until after the 30-day review. The group is expected to deliver a report to Tomblin and state lawmakers by Jan. 1, 2014.
"We need to make sure the routers are being used to their full capacity," Alsop said.
A recent West Virginia Legislative Auditor's report found that the state wasted at least $7.9 million - and up to $15 million - by purchasing oversized routers, which funnel data from one computer network to another. The state audit, and a previous federal audit, determined that the state could have purchased smaller, less expensive routers for hundreds of sites.
The Cisco routers are designed to serve a minimum of 500 Internet connections, but the state has installed the pricey devices at rural schools, planning agencies and libraries with only a handful of computer terminals.
The state audit directed Purchasing Division officials to investigate whether the Cisco sales representatives and engineers who brokered the $24 million deal should be barred from doing business in West Virginia. State auditors concluded that Cisco's sales staff showed "wanton indifference to the interest of the public."
Cisco disputed that finding in a letter to Alsop this week. State Purchasing Director David Tincher has recommended that Cisco sales staff not be barred, according to a letter Alsop sent to state lawmakers on Thursday.
"Cisco believes the criticism leveled at the state by the Legislative Auditor is misplaced, and fails to recognize the forward looking nature of your vision," Cisco Vice President Curtis Hill wrote to Alsop earlier this week.
During the 30-day statewide "site analysis," Tomblin's group won't necessarily recommend removing routers from public facilities that currently don't need or use the extra capacity, Alsop said.
"The key question we must answer is whether a [site] can be reasonably expected to use the capabilities of the routers within the useful life of the routers - up to 10 years," he said. "The state must make a reasoned judgment, not only about the needs of today but future needs over the next several years."
Reach Eric Eyre
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