An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia state government already has made plenty of costly mistakes in the name of technology. Let’s not boot up another costly program before ensuring there are no bugs in it.
A bipartisan bill introduced about a week ago in the state Senate calls for spending $78 million to build a so-called “middle mile” network of fiber-optic cables to carry high-speed Internet traffic. The 2,600 miles of line would be owned and operated by the state.
State Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, the bill’s lead sponsor, calls his plan “an interstate highway of fiber.” In essence, it would provide a link between the Internet and rural communities. Private companies would tap into the state network to run lines to consumers.
If you believe you have heard of a state-constructed “middle mile” network before, you are correct. In 2010, the state received $126.3 million in federal funds for such a project. But, with Washington’s approval, state officials changed the plan to one installing fiber-optic cables directly to public buildings such as schools and libraries.
It was that grant program that spawned “routergate,” the waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars buying unnecessarily complex, expensive routers for public buildings. Another technology scandal, you may recall, involved construction of communications towers by the state.
Walters’ bill has its supporters, among them a bipartisan group of senators, including Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who are co-sponsors.
But it has detractors, too.
Among them is Gale Given, state government’s chief technology officer. The fact she was not consulted about the proposal raises a gigantic red flag.
Her reservations are serious. “Perhaps this network is necessary, but perhaps only half of this network is necessary,” she told legislators. “I would like to see more facts before I jumped into that business.”