Anatomy Of A Boondoggle: How The US Broadband Plan Led To WV Buying $20,000 Routers For A One Room Library

from the scam-scam-scam-scam dept

Back in 2009, we warned people that the President's mega-hyped "broadband plan" really just looked like a massive gift to large incumbent providers, who were about to get an influx of taxpayer money, which would translate into next to nothing in terms of actual broadband deployments. Indeed, we've seen an awful lot of waste happening under the program, which is finally starting to come to light. Recently, the NY Times profiled widespread waste in the program, suggesting that hundreds of millions of dollars are either being wasted or are part of various boondoggles to squeeze cash out of governments:
Nationally, $594 million in spending has been temporarily or permanently halted, 14 percent of the overall program, and the Commerce Department's inspector general has raised questions about the program's ability to adequately monitor spending of the more than 230 grants.
Perhaps nowhere are the details more apparent than in West Virginia. Ars Technica summarizes a recent report that is incredibly damning. The smoking gun? A $20,000 router installed in a one-room library the size of an ordinary trailer. But that's hardly the worst of it. At least that $20,000 router is being used (even if it's under-utilized).

Part of the reason for buying that router, rather than a cheapo one that would have sufficed, was that it would enable other services, including things like VoIP. The state bought 77 of them. Turns out that 75 are just sitting around collecting dust. And none of them can use the VoIP system they need.
Ironically, the routers can't even be used for VoIP in some key cases. The state police already have a VoIP-based phone system, but the new 3945 series routers did not come with "the appropriate Cisco VoIP modules" to work with the system. The state now has to spend another $84,768 to purchase those modules; without them, the state police can't use the routers, only two of which are actually installed and operating. (For those keeping score at home, this means that 75 $20,000 routers are depreciating in a state police warehouse somewhere in West Virginia.)
There's a lot of finger-pointing going on, but when it comes down to it, this is not at all surprising. Throwing billions of dollars into the broadband space with little reasoning or oversight always leads to questionable behavior. So why do we keep doing it? Are there ways the government could spend on infrastructure and have it be powerful. Sure, but the Broadband Plan clearly was not it. And we're only learning about the abuse and waste now, after the money's been spent.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:30pm

    The real housewives of Grantville.

    People tend to be very generous when they are spending other people's money.

    It doesn't matter if it's government or corporations you're talking about.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:30pm

    'we're only learning about the abuse and waste now, after the money's been spent.'

    you didn't think the info would come out before the spend, did you? how do you think those involved would have gotten their backhanders if the money wasn't spent first?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:44pm

    On the other hand...

    that trailer-sized library? Now providing wireless access to all of West Virginia. It's a small state, what?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:45pm

    "the appropriate Cisco VoIP modules"

    How does that even work? VoIP should just work fine on any sort of TCP/IP connection... I bet they're (Cisco) are just blocking VoIP traffic on purpose to make you/them pay more ('s funny since they were already paying way too much) and if they encrypted their traffic it would work without a problem.

    A $20,000 router? What? Is this one of those scenarios where companies force you to pay more JUST because you have more money to spend?

     

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  5. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:51pm

    "this is not at all surprising."

    As I've said, that's Techdirt's motto. Kind of amazing that you use it so often. You not only write about dull subjects, but do so with a small range of cliches and pejoratives.

    How about next time you write that, Mike, you just DROP the story? Because for once you'll be right.

    This is another staple in the "gov't waste" series used to pretend to be worried about it and thereby build up credibility. -- And yet never a word here about the $83 BILLION that taxpayers are STILL giving to bankers!

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-20/why-should-taxpayers-give-big-banks-83-billion- a-year-.html




    Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up at same place!
    http://techdirt.com/
    Mike may sell T-shirts with Techdirt logo, but I bet his lunch dates are open.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:59pm

    Re:

    "Mike may sell T-shirts with Techdirt logo, but I bet his lunch dates are open."

    He had one last week, he tweeted about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 2:59pm

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    I fear what would happen to you blue if Mike died or disappeared, what would you do, who would you be without him?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Gothenem (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:01pm

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    Possibly because that is not a tech-related issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:05pm

    Re:

    How does that even work? VoIP should just work fine on any sort of TCP/IP connection... I bet they're (Cisco) are just blocking VoIP traffic on purpose to make you/them pay more ('s funny since they were already paying way too much) and if they encrypted their traffic it would work without a problem.

    I believe the specific modules they are talking about are the gateway modules between the voip/ethernet network and the PSTN (Public-Switched Telephone Networks). They usually have 1 or more T1/E1 connections with the PSTN and allow for folks to access the phone network outside of their voip network if they need to. They also have modules that allow you to connect existing phone networks to VOIP.

    Why every router would need one is beyond me. They should have a gateway to get out to the PSTN somewhere local, but they don't need 7 routers within .44 mi with the same requirement.

    A $20,000 router? What? Is this one of those scenarios where companies force you to pay more JUST because you have more money to spend?

    Yeah. And I thought our 2821 was overkill for what we use it for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:08pm

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    You may find it boring but I find it interesting. I work in the tech industry for the public sector and I constantly try to avoid such waste. If you find this boring then why are you even here?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:20pm

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    You sure do spend a whole lot of time obsessively reading a dull website.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Ehud Gavron (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:41pm

    It's a $5K router

    I know it sounds good to quote Cisco's new figures, which is likely what WVA paid.

    The routers are available on the 2ndary market for $4.5-$5.5K each.

    So the real question becomes:
    How could WVA bypass proper process and give Cisco $20K each for $5K routers they did not need?

    Sure, there's economies of scale of buying all the same thing, and if they were paying the used price only some of those would be oversell compared to a $1-$2K 2000 series router.

    But still...

    E

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:46pm

    To quote Church from Red vs. Blue...

    "Tucker, what the fuck are you babbling about?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:47pm

    Re: On the other hand...

    You think you're joking... but the capacity of what they bought is very close to being able to do that. It's just that some people wouldn't be in range.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re:

    He had one last week, he tweeted about it.


    Another this week too. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 4:15pm

    Re: To quote Church from Red vs. Blue...

    Another good one is Phil Conners in Groundhog Day:
    "Morons, your bus is leaving."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Zos (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 4:21pm

    put up a million dollar prize, invite makerspace and hackerspace inhabitants to show how them how it's done.


    6 months later we've got universal broadband, in a secure, resistant mesh coverage over the entire continental US.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Plac Ebo, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 4:36pm

    Public Library Internet Costs

    I am the Treasurer of a small library in Indiana. I've wondered for some time now if our internet service is a boondoggle.

    We have about 40 computers between staff and public use. Our peak internet usage is usually after school when students use our WiFi with their school issued iPads. We contract with ENA Services of Knoxville, TN for "10mb Egress" internet service. The cost is $2215 per month. The federal government, through the E-Rate program, covers 80% of the cost. In addition, we get a state grant that covers about 70% of the remainder. The bottom line is that our library pays $125 per month for a service that costs $2215 per month.

    The $2215 per month sounds outrageous to me. Is this a fair rate? Is the federal government being gouged? Are there sweetheart deals involved? Verizon, ATT and others provide 10-15mb service to small businesses in our area for $100-$200 per month. Am I comparing oranges to oranges? Am I missing something? I would appreciate advice and thoughts from anyone on this board that has expertise in this area.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 4:40pm

    Welcome to the Obamination, worse than any nation before.
    Fraudulent green initiatives, hyper waste, mega fraud, crony capitalism, and demagoguery.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    letherial (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 4:45pm

    Re:

    While i am sure it would be more complicated then that, your premise is sound.

    The problem is, not enough rich people will get richer, this falls under 'socialism' and it will benefit everyone equally, that's not going to fly for our representatives, who are often more worried about getting richer then the good of citizens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 4:47pm

    Re: Re:

    Thank you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    Rapnel (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 5:15pm

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    What? Loon. Whatever it is you're trying to build (or destroy) here I, for one, think you might need to stfu sometimes. We get it, you don't appreciate this guy's opinion. So? Maybe you could, you know, take a chance and form a coherent counter to the opinions presented?

    You can still, you know, be a loon, but, damn, how about changing it up a bit?

    The irony is that I've been wondering why folks continue to feed you and yet .. fuck.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    Corwin (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 5:19pm

    Re:

    And that differs from GWB's policy how?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    anonymouse, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 5:19pm

    fraud

    The people responsible for this must be charged with fraudulent use of governement funds, all involved must have their assets seized and there finances must be investigated for any suprice income, or payments.

    When the law actually does it's job and they go after the worst criminals they can save or recover a lot of money for the taxpayer, But they are spending so much of theor time to prosecute what should be civil cases they just do nto have the means to also go after the real crooks, those that are stealing money , cash in their pockets not jst a file on the computer that has no value to anyone.

    This will all come out and everyone will show mock suprise and disgust but nobody will be punished, well maybe the perosn that looked at the equipment but was not in any way responsible for it being purchsed.

    Sickening how corruption is so blatent , but then they know the laws and they knwo they will get away with it, god they probably have information on any judges that would be hearing these cases so are felling very smug,

    The only way to make the system work is to work against it, Google is starting to show how to do that with google fiber, supplying a dream at crazy low prices and doing it while still making a profit.

    Somewhere someone is going to be cringing every time they see the words google, and they know that they have shown the big 4 isp's for what they are, lazy do nothing monopolists. Who will suffer once they are ignored by the public and new networks are built by local governing bodies who might take a small backhand but not the billions that the top 4 get legally.

    Imagine what Google could have done with the billions givent o the top 4 , they could have approached almost every city and started installing fibre to the house with 1gb speeds. They would probably by now have managed to cover at least 50% of the country, and the size of the country is irrelevant , there are countries with a much lower population per acre than America and they have amazing broadband, at prices the American population could only dream of.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Rapnel (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 5:27pm

    Re:

    Nice. As if every one of our chosen representatives isn't thrown into the pit of a government too big to swallow. You want to see a worse nation? Then keep voting for crap and supporting people that make the shit pile bigger - a whole lot of stench in an itty-bitty space.

    If you're too big to be properly accountable then, it doth seem, you are too big to fail. Last stop: sheep masquerading as citizens? Or wolves masquerading as sheep?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 6:27pm

    Re: Re:

    It's not a partisan thing anymore. They are both as corrupt as can be, just painted a different color.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    techflaws (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 10:40pm

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    As I've said, that's Techdirt's motto.

    Right, and since when does anything you say make a difference to anyone?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    ProDrive, Feb 27th, 2013 @ 2:45am

    Keine Überraschung

    Das ist die Welt in der wir leben.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That logo in a black shirt is sexy in a very geeky way, do you ship to Brazil? My gf liked it too

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 2:59am

    Re: Re: To quote Church from Red vs. Blue...

    ...in five minutes. Be under it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 3:07am

    Twenty grand for a router? Shit, give me $20k and I'll give you a fully functioning system for 1/5 of that value.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 27th, 2013 @ 3:55am

    Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    Dude, do you go to car mod sites and post how boring it is to talk about the new rims or fender options that people are drooling over? Seriously, your priorities might be in place, but they are seriously fucked up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 27th, 2013 @ 7:34am

    If they're wasting money on this stuff, they aren't spending it on infrastructure that might compete with the legacy players. I wonder whose lobbyist pushed these policies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    known coward, Feb 27th, 2013 @ 7:56am

    Re: Re:

    cisco sells the service modules seperate, in some devices you want BGP it costs more. Same with VoIP.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    known coward, Feb 27th, 2013 @ 8:01am

    Re: Public Library Internet Costs

    it depends on how far away you are from the POP as to how much it should cost. Yes the number sounds high, the small business rates you are quoting seem low, (but i am in NYC everythign is more expensive). I would expect more in the 300 500 dollar range. (not counting verizon's FIOS for business, which might meet your needs). However the 125 per month you are paying sounds reasonable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    kitsune361, Feb 27th, 2013 @ 9:45am

    Re: It's a $5K router

    That $20k was probably new, from Cisco, with an extended service contract and licenses for extra software options and packages of users licenses.

    I'm pretty sure that if it's anything like the rest of their "Enterprise" level gear you cannot download patches and firmware upgrades with out a valid service contract, which on average I've noticed costs about 10% of the initial cost per year.

    One time I bought a small business Cisco firewall/router on "the secondary market", and damnest thing, if I had more than 10 devices on the network at a time, one of them would get it's connection out to the internet dropped. Turns out the thing had a 10 user license. *facepalm* Currently it's warming an AV rack in my friend's living room as his needs come in *way* under 10 routable IPs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re:

    So, in other words, the routers provide the same VOIP-PSTN gateway functionality that you could get from a $50 device off of Amazon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 6:51pm

    Re: Re: "this is not at all surprising."

    I'm guessing things that we are better off not imagining.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 6:56pm

    Re:

    Please to explain how Obama caused the civil war too...

    Other than this giving your racism a much more "acceptable" face, would you care to look at the actual history of these things and notice that no single party is at fault.
    The problem is a government in the pocket of big business, and the public wants to believe the lies they are told about how this will benefit them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 27th, 2013 @ 7:07pm

    Re:

    you missed your sarcasm tags :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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