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Why decisions from the top are often incorrect.  About ten years ago (a century in terms of Internet technology the Federal government committed to spreading broadband across the rural landscape to include and engage more people.

Congress and it’s largesse, along with considerable pork-barrel funded this effort without looking into the finer details…Heads should roll in whatever branch of the U.S. Government signed the checks.  Hopefully an Inspector General can sort this out.

Let’s move over to West Virginia:

High end Cisco Router…$ 20,000 USD installed in rural one room library  Here is a story that every citizen should cry about.  It also points out how vendors game the grant system. (Feds should not announce how much money is to be granted, until after the bidding takes place.)

Attribution given to arsTechnica , an internet publication devoted to technology.

Marmet, West Virginia is a town of 1,500 people living in a thin ribbon along the banks of the Kanawha River just below Charleston. The town's public library is only open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It's housed in a small building the size of a trailer, which the state of West Virginia describes as an "extremely small facility with only one Internet connection." Which is why it's such a surprise to learn the Marmet Public Library runs this connection through a $15,000 to $20,000 Cisco 3945 router intended for "mid-size to large deployments," according to Cisco.


West Virginia officials are accused of overspending at least $5 million of federal money on such routers, installed indiscriminately in both large institutions and one-room libraries across the state. The routers were purchased without ever asking the state's libraries, cops, and schools what they needed. And when distributed, the expensive routers were passed out without much apparent care. The small town of Clay received seven of them to serve a total population of 491 people... and all seven routers were installed within only .44 miles of each other at a total cost of more than $100,000. (yes, that was .44 miles, ie less than 1/2 mile apart.

In other words, the project has been a stellar example of what not to do and how not to do it

In total, $24 million was spent on the routers through a not-very-open bidding process under which non-Cisco router manufacturers such as Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent were not "given notice or any opportunity to bid." As for Cisco, which helped put the massive package together, the legislative auditor concluded that the company "had a moral responsibility to propose a plan which reasonably complied with Cisco's own engineering standards" but that instead "Cisco representatives showed a wanton indifference to the interests of the public in recommending using $24 million of public funds to purchase 1,164 Cisco model 3945 branch routers."

A million here, a million there

The routers in question were purchased as part of a much larger grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which passed out several billion dollars to help upgrade broadband networks across America as part of President Obama's initial stimulus package in 2009. West Virginia's cash was meant to wire up the many "community anchor institutions" such as libraries, schools, police, and hospitals across the state with Internet access delivered over fiber-optic lines.  Instead of "right-sizing" the routers for their intended destinations, the state group of officials charged with implementing the grant decided they would make things easy by purchasing the exact same router and installing it everywhere, even in the most rural locations they planned to reach.

(This was a widespread problem; the report notes no capacity or user needs surveys were ever done before the money was spent). Instead, the team simply ordered 77 Cisco 3945 routers at a cost of $20,661 apiece—that's one $20,000 router for every 13.7 state police employees—and sent them off to the police. (Each router can handle several hundred concurrent users.)

What was the grant team thinking?

The legislative auditor was also apparently quite peeved by this entire investigation. The auditor's office sent off a fairly testy e-mail to Cisco noting that the 3945 routers were not appropriate for most West Virginia deployments—even according to Cisco's own literature.

The auditor asked one of the legislature's network specialists if he would even want a 3945 router; the man said no because "it greatly exceeds the Legislature's needs." And yet somehow more than 1,000 of them had been sent to the very furthest, most rural corners of the state.


The State Purchasing division should determine whether Cisco's actions in this matter fall afoul of section 5A-3-33d of the West Virginia Code, and whether the company should be barred from bidding on future projects.

The report finds plenty of blame to go around. The ultimate cause of the fiasco, it says, was the fact the grant implementers did not conduct a capacity or use study before spending $24 million. They also used a "legally unauthorized purchasing process" to buy the routers, which resulted in only modest competition for the bid. Finally, Cisco is accused of knowingly selling the state larger routers than it needed and of showing a "wanton indifference to the interests of the public."

As for that $5+ million the state could have saved, it would have paid for 104 additional miles of fiber.

A word to the wise….All those planning and implementing HIT, HIX and/or EMR deployments need a watchdog to prevent abuse of the HITECH ACT.

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