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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"

The North Florida Broadband Authority did not disappoint at its Friday morning, October 21, 2011 emergency meeting when, acting with its usual 12th hour policy of last moment agenda preparation, NFBA Chairman, Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford, asked the Authority Board to remove broadband experts Rapid Systems from the federally funded broadband project. This move, misrepresented by the Chairman and rubber stamped by the Authority Board is guaranteed to disrupt the project and waste hundreds of thousands of federal stimulus dollars. It is yet another example of the bungling of this important project, which caused the feds to ask for the resignations of three major Tallahassee firms and to shut the project down for over a month.

The NFBA's Chairman, Stephen Fulford sprung removal of Rapid Systems on the NFBA Board almost without warning, using the same standard operating procedure used by Government Services Group (GSG) since this reporter has been following the story. Last minute agendas and voluminous handouts rule the day. GSG e-mailed the agenda to the board members and interested parties at 10:56 PM the evening before the next day's 11 a.m. meeting.

A transcript of the NFBA's removal of Rapid Systems can be found here.

Almost an hour into the meeting the removal of Rapid Systems from the project "for convenience" came up on the docket.

Chairman Fulford told the NFBA board, "... It's an item that I have weighed heavily on for a while. This was put on here at my request. Given the status we're in with the transition, it makes good business sense to consider this termination for convenience with Rapid Systems."

Pat O'Neal of Cedar Key asked, "Have we vetted this at all with the NTIA?"

Chairman Fulford responded, "We have."

Wendell Johnson of Lake City asked, "Is Rapid Systems aware that this is being considered today?"

Chairman Fulford responded, "I don't think so."

Chris Voehl, representing Rapid Systems told the board, "Our understanding from attending the CAP [Corrective Action Plan] response and transition meeting, Wednesday, was that the recommendation of that group and yourself included, Wendell, would be to echo what Jacobs had recommended -- is that we would be making (train goes by) a mistake to terminate our contract and I believe what you said also was that moving all the equipment would be cost prohibitive and our offer to the board to assist during the transition period ... we would be willing and able to assist the NFBA in their transition."

Chairman Fulford responded, "I don't think Jacobs has made a recommendation one way or another on this..."

On October 6, 2011, Jacobs Engineering's lead NFBA contact, Jeff Purdy, recommended leaving Rapid Systems on the job. Chairman Fulford was sitting one seat away when Mr. Purdy said in part, "They are doing some things that are specific to what they do and if we don't include that I think it would be a considerable mistake." Read the story here.

The removal of Rapid Systems from the NFBA project will cause chaos. Is this "good business sense?"

There are 96 site permits that Rapid Systems obtained. According to a spokesperson from Rapid Systems it appears that these sites are going to have to be re-permitted. Depending on the municipalities, this could take at least a month and untold hours of appointments and driving around on the part of Jacobs Engineering, who may have to resubmit everything. The original permitting took two months.

The way things are presently laying out, Jacobs Engineering is going to be the Project Management Office, Quality Assurance, the General Contractor and the Consulting Engineers. Nobody has explained who is going to be watching Jacobs.

There are risks involved in moving the inventory

Rapid Systems has millions of dollars of inventory, some of which is highly sensitive electronic equipment. This equipment is at risk of being damaged every time it is moved. The equipment that is presently warehoused in Rapid Systems warehouses has been carefully organized, assembled when necessary, tested and is ready to be installed as is needed on the job sites.

Moving this equipment is an unnecessary and high risk endeavor.

Chris Voehl of Rapid Systems estimates a minimum of 20 tractor-trailers will be necessary to move the presently warehoused equipment at a cost approximately $1000 a load. Mr. Voehl said the truckers may charge a premium because of the short notice.

Mr. Voehl added, "Because of the nature of the high-tech electronics in many of the components, while there is not great risk once it is installed, stationary on the towers, the risk lies in moving it unnecessarily."

Small contractors do not trust the NFBA

As reported previously by the Observer, many of the small contractors on the NFBA project have been devastated by the lack of timely payments for work they have completed. It is not clear how many of these contractors will go back to work for the NFBA unless they are paid in advance or even if they are, will go back to work for them at all.

Epilogue

NFBA Chairman, Stephen Fulford, called the removal of Rapid Systems, the only company on the project that builds wireless broadband systems "good business sense." The rest of the NFBA board agreed.

Moving the inventory, testing it both before and after it is transported, and then re-inventorying it so that it is ready for deployment may well cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As the conversation drew to a close, Chairman Fulford told the NFBA board, "I think professionally it's just what's in the best interest of the project. Ya know -- from a professional position."

A few moments later the board unanimously voted to remove Rapid Systems from the project. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Links to the NFBA series:

• North Florida Broadband Authority: FL's Public Record Laws the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII) (January 6, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Foot dragging, lack of info cause Suwannee Cnty to call "strike 3" on the NFBA – They're out
(Part XXXII) (January 3, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Suwannee County tells the NFBA – One more strike and you're out
(PartXXXI) (December 20, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Wracked by gross mismanagement from the feds on down, the NFBA has become the poster child for non disclosure
(Part XXX) (December 18, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: More bad news. Last Mile Wifi CEO, "I knew they were going to extort me."
(Part XXIX) December 10, 2012

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA failed to make the grade in Gilchrist County
(Part XXVIII) (November 29, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Columbia County Pulls Out of Obama Funded Stimulus Project
(Part XXVII) (November 2, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: The NFBA road show traveled to an unprepared Columbia County with misinformation, half truths, and just plain lies
(Part XXVI) (Posted October 9, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Woebegotten Stimulus funded authority gets another black eye. No one bids to service the $30 mil 14 county network.
(Part XXV) (Posted October 1, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Auth: Another County pulls out. Dixie says throwing away money a major issue.
(Part XXIV) (Posted September 13, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA road shows moves to Lake City for a double dose of free money
(Part XXIII) (Posted September 5, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Secrecy and a lawyer's spread sheet. It's business as usual at the NFBA.
(Part XXII) (Posted August 22, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:  Mainstreet Broadband, NFBA's touted business partner, goes bust
(Part XXI) (Posted August 2, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Two cities say "no mas." Refuse free tower space to NFBA
(Part XX)  (Posted July 26, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Taylor County Says Goodbye, "I don't think our county should be involved."
(Part XIX) (Posted April 18, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Perry Pulls Out, City Manager tells Council, "It's just out of whack"
(Part XVIII) (Posted April 11, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Bradford County Says "No Mas" – Pulls Out
(Part XVII) (Posted April 4, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Operating in the shadows with the help of the Feds, the NFBA saga continues
(Part XVI) (posted March 29, 2012)

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson looks to make White Elephant deal with troubled North Florida Broadband Authority
(Part XV) (Posted Feb 28, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Propped up by the Feds, financed by the American People - Who can you trust?
(Part XIV) (Posted Feb 25, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Not for them

(Part XIII) (Posted Jan 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. A Look At The Numbers
(Part XIIb) (Posted Dec 29, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. Money Is No Object
(Part XIIa) (Posted Dec 28, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds come to town – Working under the cover of darkness was their MO

(Part XI) (Posted November 23, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds continue investigation - Interim GM rehires resigned firms employees

(part X) (Posted Nov 11, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"
(Part IX) (Posted November 2, 2011)

• Federal grant for broadband access in rural Louisiana rescinded: Could the North Florida Broadband Authority Be Far Behind?
(Posted October 28, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"
(Part VIII) (Posted October 25, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding – Put small vendors first
(Part VII) (Posted October 20, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resign (Part VIb)  (Posted Oct 14, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street (Part VIa)  (posted Oct 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." (Part V)  (posted Oct. 6, 2011)

NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project  (Part IV) (posted Sept 28, 2011)

The North Florida Broadband Authority. Its world was about to change (part III)  (posted Sept 16, 2011)

"I think we have a failure to communicate." The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues (Part II)  (posted Sept 14, 2011)

Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again
(Part I)  (posted Sept 12, 2011)