Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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December 10, 2012

Fiber network goes unused at W.Va. libraries

CHARLESTON — New fiber-optic cable installed in more than 160 West Virginia libraries as part of a $126.3 million broadband expansion project remains unused, a state Library Commission official said.

Secretary Karen Goff said the commission can’t pay for upgraded Internet service under an existing contract with the federal government.

For now, $22,600 high-powered computer routers bought by the state two years ago as part of the federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet are being used with slower connections.

“The potential of these routers and fiber has yet to be realized,” Goff told The Charleston Gazette. “The routers are sort of worthless without the fiber.”

The state Library Commission currently pays $960,000 a year for Internet service at libraries. States pay costs up front and are reimbursed 75 cents for every dollar spent. Under the existing statewide contract, the commission can’t afford the new fiber service.

“We’re frustrated,” Goff said. “We can’t pay for (the upgraded) fiber without a new state contract.”

Because of the new connections, a new reimbursement agreement must be worked out with the federal government, a process can take up to 18 months. The Federal Communication Commission’s “e-rate” program helps libraries and schools pay for technology at discounted rates.

“Without e-rate, we couldn’t pay for telecommunications in our libraries,” Goff said.

Gale Given, West Virginia’s chief technology officer, has contacted fiber network builder Frontier Communications, which has agreed to provide discounted rates. But a change order would have to be issued to the state’s existing Internet services contract to reflect lower rates.

“We have to ensure the change is done in such a way as to comply with e-rate requirements,” Given said. “Otherwise, the circuits would not qualify for the federal reimbursement. We hope to have this completed in early 2013.”

At the Clay County Public Library, Librarian Sheila Thorne said an antiquated connection slows Internet speeds on 10 computers during busy afternoons. In the library’s basement, a $7,800 high-speed fiber connection and an expensive Internet router were installed a year ago.

“Everything’s connected, ready to go, but the fiber isn’t turned on,” Thorne said. “They’re trying to figure out who’s paying for what, and we’re just waiting for whatever they decide to do.

“I just wish it was up and running. It would make a world of difference.”

The Bridgeport Public Library gave away its new Internet router because it didn’t want to wait years for the state to fix its e-rate contract. The router is now in the hands of a data center owned by Internet service provider Citynet, said Citynet President Jim Martin.

Given said she was unaware the router wasn’t at the Bridgeport library.

“They’re not permitted to give it away,” she said. “They can’t give it to another entity. I’ll have to look into this.”

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