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North Florida Broadband Authority: Federal hearing may answer what is the measure of success at the NFBA

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Tomorrow morning the congressional Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will be holding hearings at 10 am. Last week the staff of the committee contacted the Observer and after a few brief conversations regarding the North Florida Broadband Authority, the following statement was sent to the Committee Chairman, the Hon. Greg Walden. The subject of the hearing is, "Is the Broadband Stimulus Working?"

Dear Chairman Walden,

I appreciate the opportunity to present the following to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Please find below a few brief questions and a map regarding the North Florida Broad Band Authority, a governmental body that received a $30,142,676 BTOP stimulus grant which expired on January 31, 2013 and was extended for two months without any details being made available to the NFBA Board, the press or the public, giving credence to the idea that success in the BTOP program is measured by money spent and not the connection of folks to the internet.

I have it on good authority that the mantra of the NTIA is not to return one penny of grant money to the U.S. Treasury and can obtain affidavits attesting to that if it is the committee's desire.

Most of my sources will not speak with folks from the U.S. government anymore, or will only speak through an attorney, because after putting themselves on the line they quite simply have lost faith that anybody will do anything to thoroughly investigate the charges of waste; fraud; and abuse that have to do with this project. They have given up hope and faith because it appears that the OIG, the FBI, and the NTIA are covering up the massive misuse of the American People's money, which is and has been used to fund the grant.

Sec Strickling testifying before the committee in May, 2012.

Looking at the map, you will see that half of the original counties in North Central Florida have voluntarily withdrawn from the North Florida Broadband Authority. Their departures have been documented in a series of articles that can be found in the Columbia County Observer.

I respectfully submit these questions on behalf of the many folks, good Americans, who had the courage to speak out and have been ignored.

While it may seem that many of the questions may be parochial to the North Florida Broadband Authority, my sources say that the problems regarding the BTOP stimulus grants are, contrary to the rosy picture painted by Director Strickling, endemic throughout the projects.

What is the measure of how success is judged?

• Is t the number of jobs created?
• Is the number of miles covered with cable or wireless signal?
• Is it the number of customers signed up?
• Is it the number of customers driven away from free market providers?


• Are grant eligible and non eligible expenses scrutinized?
• Are investigations by the OIG and FBI monitored to minimize waste; fraud; and abuse?
• How many recipients are/were under investigation for waste; fraud; abuse?

• Is the NTIA helping to re-arrange grant eligible and non eligible expenses at the NFBA to bail out the now Canadian Bank, TD Bank, who lent the NFBA and FRBA (Florida Rural Broadband Alliance) $750,000 each in un-secured dollars?

Sec. Strickling's Feb 27, 2013 prepared remarks to the committee concerning the NFBA are here.

Florida – NFBA – Mainstreet

The NFBA has spent approximately $28.5 million dollars of the $30mil grant and as of a few weeks ago had 60 paying customers and 15 or 20 thousand dollars a month in revenue, with expenses estimated to be over $200k a month and growing. Recently, the NTIA extended the grant another 60 days without any sustainability/revenue model provided by or to the NFBA and presumably to the NTIA.

Mainstreet was awarded a 34 million dollar loan from RUS to cover most of the same Florida territory. It was reported that Mainstreet had 6,000 customers in Florida before they closed their doors.

For months, Larry Strickling and the NFBA claimed that the NFBA business model, which no one in Florida has apparently seen, was a model of sustainability for all BTOP recipients.

• Question: If Mainstreet couldn't make it with 6,000 customers, how is the NFBA going to make it with 60?

Members of the NFBA, the Grant Recipients

As can be seen on the map, half of the member counties have given a vote of no confidence to both the NFBA management and the NTIA with their feet and withdrawn from the Authority, leaving a foot print that is now half its original size.

It has been estimated that 90% the Community Anchor Institutions (CAI's) in the grant footprint already had internet service at the time the grant was awarded.

For quite some time the representatives of these counties have complained about faulty procurement, salary issues, hiring issues, technical issues, and management issues.

How is it that the project is still being supported by the federal government after half the member counties have shown no confidence and voted with their feet, packed up their bags and left? 


"Sunlight is the best disinfectant" - Louis Brandeis, Sup Ct Justice
StewLilker Pub/ed
Columbia County Observer

Good government is everybody's business.

Correction: The name of the committee chairman was corrected to read Greg Walden

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On March 1, 2013, Jason from Lake City wrote:

I am grateful all the reporting you have done on the NFBA and letting the federal committee know exactly what has been going on. You are the voice for those of us that are stuck out here with no options for broadband since the demise of MainstreetBB. It was great while it lasted.

Comcast tells me that they are 2 miles from my address but have no plans to bring the cable out further because it would not fit their consumer business model. ATT still does not have DSL anywhere near my address. I do not believe they have expanded their coverage in years. Their UVerse is also not available beyond Lake City, city limits.

A few miles down the road, towards Suwannee County, there are lucky people who are serviced by Windstream instead of ATT. Windstream has DSL almost over their entire service area. There are many households in my sub-division, and many more in other sub-divisions off of Lake Jefferey Road, and many other areas as well, that would have been or would be happy paying customers for a broadband service.

Almost $30 million dollars. They could have taken a fraction of that money and either expanded cable internet or DSL internet to all of us. Or they could have funded MainstreetBB like I heard they were supposed to, for equipment.

All the taxpayers money went to the "good-ol-boy" system to people that had no business getting paid anything for doing nothing. I hope they are held accountable. It would be great if they have to give the money back.

Anyone with some technical background and half a brain could fix the rural broadband problem with that kind of money.

Sincerely, A technical person with no high-speed internet, Lake City


On March 10, 2013, Citizen 49a of Lake City wrote:

This is all very simple, really. Google the terms " Solyndra Obama supporters broadband" to begin to understand it all, including the "rosy picture" painted by Secretary Strickland. Or try the terms "lightsquared wireless Obama".   Then put 2 and 2 together.


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