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North Florida Broadband Authority: Two cities say "no mas." Refuse free tower space to NFBA

Wireless broadband represented by a plug.

Starke/Trenton, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority, an Obama stimulus program that has been racked by charges of waste, fraud, and abuse; has gone through multiple engineering firms, law firms, lawyers, accounting firms and accountants; has performed at least three rate studies; has a partner that has also received a Rural Utility Service (RUS) loan; is and has been under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the Dept. of Commerce; has a $200k plus anointed prima donna general manager with zero communication industry experience; a project manager who has had badges of fraud pinned on him by a Federal Judge; (there is more); is a year behind schedule in deploying its $30 million wireless broadband network; and has a reputation that precedes itself. This secretive organization recently came before two small Florida Cities to ask for free tower space so it and its partner, Main Street Broadband, could make money, while at the same time competing against private industry.

Recently, the small Florida cities of Starke and Trenton joined Taylor and Bradford Counties, and the city of Perry in rejecting the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA).

The NFBA retinue traveled to Starke and Trenton under the cover of darkness to present the NFBA program and ask for free tower space. Neither the NFBA, nor the NFEDP/FSU's (North Florida Economic Development Partnership/Florida State University) Hendry reveal to the general public or media the dates and times of their presentations beforehand.

The $80k a year NFBA Board Clerk, along with the NFBA Board's Vice Chair, Cedar Key's Pat O'Neal, have claimed time and again that nobody tells them where and when these presentations will occur. General Manager Sucara, who has been known to suffer from stage fright, did not show up at either Starke or Trenton.

The NFBA's Project Manager, Donny Lort and the NFBA's Chairman, Tommy Langford of Gilchrist County, made the presentation at Starke. GM Sucara was scheduled to be there, but never made it.

At Trenton, Mr. Lort, Mr. Langford and the NFEDP/FSU's Hendry made the presentations. FSU's Hendry claims to do the NFEDP's work free of charge.

The American people pay $10,000 a month to Mr. Hendry for his services as part of the NFBA grant. This money is funneled through the North Florida Economic Development Partnership directly into the coffers of Florida State University. Additionally, the NFEDP is supported by numerous member counties in north central Florida. That money is also channeled into FSU.

Starke and Trenton: They did their homework

Starke City Hall

The NFBA came before both Starke and Trenton and asked for free tower space. This space was going to be subleased to its partner, Main Street Broadband for nothing, or so the NFBA claimed.

As the presentation opened in Starke, NFBA Board Chair Langford told the City, "One thing that makes ours [the NFBA network] unique is a lot of your providers are fiber-optic and it's very expensive to lay it and service it. Ours is wireless, so it's very more economical and we can send a signal without having to have right-of-way issues and laying cable and all that kind of stuff."

As Mr. Langford addressed the City Commission, the NFBA was finalizing a request for bids for fiber, which eventually came in at $4.5 million dollars. This was not part of the original grant application nor was it mentioned during the presentation.

City Attorney Terrance Brown complained that he just received the lease that afternoon. He asked, "I notice you value the use of the tower at $2250 per month. Are you willing to pay the city $2250 a month for the tower space?"

The NFBA's Lort:  That $2250 was valuated by the federal government through a study. So that's what the federal government credits us towards our match. That's not what you would pay in this area. As a matter of fact, some of our leases are around $1700 on commercial towers.

Attorney Brown:  The City finds itself in a financial position where they just can't give away things anymore. Are you willing to lease it for a fair market value?

As Mr. Lort stumbled, Mr. Langford jumped in: That's something we would have to present to the board. You know – what our options would be and how valuable it would be. In other words, would the return be beneficial to us.

Attorney Brown:  I did notice that you had a provision in there where you could turn around and sublease access to the tower to your last mile provider. But whatever they paid you, you would keep 100% of the profits from that.

Mr. Lort claimed that any money derived from subleasing belonged to the NFBA.

Trenton: Problems with the concept and the lease

Trenton Mayor Glen Thigpen asked the NFBA Trenton team of Mr. Lort, Mr. Hendry and Mr. Langford:  Are we providing for a commercial business to come in and make money off the city of Trenton?

NFBA Chairman Langford invited Trenton to join the NFBA:  I understand your point. We have a tower here; we're allowing commercial industry to come here and do business on this tower.

Mr. Lort explained the disadvantage of not having high speed internet. He told the Trenton City Commission:  Businesses may leave because they don't have high-speed Internet here... A lot of houses don't get bought because they don't have high speed internet.

NFEDP/FSU's Hendry joined the chorus:  I go around this country, literally around the world and try to recruit business and industry to come to north central Florida. One of the first questions I get is, what's your telecommunications infrastructure?

Mayor Thigpen told the NFBA team that Trenton already has high speed internet service:  One of the reasons I moved into town was high-speed Internet and that was 10 years ago. I'm missing the idea that our residents in Trenton have not had high-speed Internet, because we have.

NFBA's Langford:  You may have Internet service, but what kind of service?

Mayor Thigpen told him, "I think our residents have high-speed Internet as a rule."

Mr. Lort shot back, "I challenge you with that... I mean the federal government defines high-speed as 768. That's dial-up speed."

Mayor Thigpen told Mr. Lort:  I know the difference between the speeds.

Trenton is served by AT&T. Trenton's residents can stream video and watch movies if their pocket books are agreeable.

After being repeatedly interrupted by Mr. Lort, the Mayor said, "We're not here to oppose you, but we have revenues and we have infrastructure that belongs to the citizens of our town. We don't want to see the revenues go away. We don't want to see the infrastructure used if it's not going to truly benefit those people and have some return on investment."

Main Street Broadband

Trenton City Manager Taylor Brown filled Mr. Lort and Mr. Hendry in on the history of Main Street Broadband and the NFBA. He told them that Main Street Broadband did come before the Trenton City Commission [a couple of years ago] and they tried to rent the City water tower knowing that the NFBA was coming:

We hesitated to jump on board, because we didn't want to do anything that might negate the authority using our in-kind asset. We did that as a courtesy and in hindsight, we did that at our own peril financially, because they went down the street to Fanning Springs and signed a lease with them. Fanning Springs collects $510 a month from Main Street Broadband for being on their water tower. So that's $6000 a year of lost revenue had we not first been looking after your interests. So keep that in mind... And as some of our commissioners have noted... AT&T already provides us pretty good service.

The Lease

As in Starke, Trenton received the NFBA lease at the last minute. Again, there was a question regarding the term of the lease. Was the NFBA asking for a 20 or 50 year term?

City Manager Brown said the NFBA asked for "a 50 year commitment with four additional automatic renewals for successive 50 year renewal terms. That's a total of 250 years."

City Manager Brown said that contrary to Mr. Hendry's earlier remarks that the lease was revenue neutral, it was not. "Your lease specifically states that the lessee may elect to sublease the portion of the premises to the last mile provider and the proceeds from any such sublease shall belong solely to the lessee [the NFBA].

Mr. Lort said the NFBA sent the wrong lease.

After some conversation Mayor Thigpen weighed in, "I am extremely concerned about leasing to someone, who has the ability to then sublease to a last mile provider. It goes back to my original concern that we're using the assets of the citizens of Trenton to service a commercial business."

City Manager Brown closed out the conversation with the NFBA. "Well, it's incredibly frustrating to me to review a 27 page lease with all kinds of legalese, that's very strongly written towards one side, only to then have them say -- that's not the one we're supposed to be looking at now."

Like Starke, Trenton turned the lease over to their attorney for his evaluation and recommendation.


Brief conversations this week with representatives from both Starke and Trenton revealed that the NFBA issue has not been rescheduled and that it is not expected to be rescheduled anytime soon in either city.

At 12:30 pm today, the NFEDP/FSU's Hendry told the attendees at an NFEDP meeting, "There is a lot of misinformation being spread about the NFBA." 

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Links to the NFBA series:

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Baker County becomes the 7th north central Florida county to pull out of Obama stimulus funded NFBA

(Part XXXVII) (February 19, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds put failing stimulus funded NFBA on life support. 3yrs and $28+ mil later, 60 customers and no revenue model.
(Part XXXVI) (February 15, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Former Board Clerk sues NFBA for wrongful termination and violation of her constitutional rights
(Part XXXV) (January 30, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: $30 mil later N. Central Florida Regional Planning Council - clueless
(Part XXXIV) (January 25, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: After General Counsel's response, FL's Public Record Laws remain the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII (b)) (January 8, 2013)

• 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)