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W.Va. to John Chambers: Phone home

John Chambers, the Cisco Systems CEO, is a loyal West Virginia University alum. He has donated his time and money to the university.

In 2011, Chambers donated $750,000 to WVU for cancer research. The university is fortunate to have a graduate proclaimed as one of the most successful businessmen in the world.

But somebody in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration needs to get Chambers on the phone and tell him about Routergate.

John Chambers, phone home.

You've heard the story by now:

In 2010, the state used $24 million in federal stimulus money to buy 1,164 Internet routers from Cisco. A legislative audit released earlier this month found that most of the routers, which cost nearly $23,000 apiece, were way too powerful for the state's needs.

In at least one case, the router is worth more than the tiny Marmet Public Library, where it was installed to handle a single Internet connection. Additionally, the routers won't even work in all but two State Police barracks because they are not compatible with the phone systems.

The state Purchasing Division, the Office of Technology and the Broadband Technology Opportunity Grant Implementation Team all bear some responsibility for this bad deal. The audit can't seem to find anyone to claim responsibility for the final say.

Sen. Joe Manchin, who was governor at the time of the deal, has mounted a half-hearted defense of the purchase, saying it was an investment for the future.

But the audit concludes that it may cost more just to service the oversized routers than the state would have paid had it bought the right routers in the first place.

But Cisco isn't off the hook either.

The deal was done through a questionable secondary bid process that the audit claims was illegal. Additionally, the audit found Cisco showed a "wanton indifference to the interests of the public" by up-selling the state."

My guess is that Chambers will want to do right by West Virginia.

Cisco could start by taking back the routers that are still in boxes and sending a refund. The company could also provide the equipment necessary so the routers will work in all the State Police barracks.

Then Chambers can help the Tomblin administration get to the bottom of exactly how this deal came down. If that person is still working for the state, he or she should be fired.

In the meantime, Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants should read the audit and see if it piques his interest.

John Chambers is a remarkable businessman. He's taken Cisco's annual revenues from $1 billion to $40 billion during his 18 years as CEO. Chambers is a distinguished member of the WVU Business Hall of Fame.

He knows a bad deal when he sees one, so it won't take long to identify this turkey and begin making it right.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.

 


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