Stew Lilker’s

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North Florida Broadband Auth: Another County pulls out. Dixie says throwing away money a major issue.

LAKE CITY, FL – The saga of the $30,000,000 stimulus funded behind schedule North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) continues with another casualty, as the Observer has recently learned that Dixie County, on July 19, 2012, officially pulled out of the NFBA. As it struggles to stay afloat on a soon to disappear stream of millions of mismanaged Obama dollars, there were no press releases by the NFBA announcing this event. On May 9, 2012, Dixie County's County Manager came to an NFBA meeting, spoke out and questioned the NFBA about its progress. The NFBA cleansed its minutes of all of Dixie County's remarks. The Observer begins the story here.

May 9, 2012: There is no record of this in the NFBA minutes

On May 9, 2012, Dixie County's County Manager, Mike Cassidy had some serious concerns regarding the NFBA, the design of the network and the leases for its towers and other assets to the NFBA. He shared these concerns with the NFBA management and Board.

County Manager (CM) Cassidy said that Dixie County "needed more backbone up. We need that middle mile." The backbone, also referred to as the middle mile of the NFBA network, is what brings the internet to an area and then allows it to be sent further away to another area.

CM Cassidy pointed out on a map an underserved area in Dixie County. "That is the largest populated area with the most demand, the most underserved and unserved for internet high speed service." The NFBA did not have plans to bring service to that area.

CM Cassidy asked if there was a list and a time line available to see where the NFBA or a last mile provider was planning to go.

The NFBA's staff Project Manager, Donny Lort, explained it was part of the ongoing network design. He said, "It is ongoing from now to the end of the year.

The NFBA has consistently refused to release the network re design that was spoken of in the beginning of 2012 and sent to the NTIA for approval. The NFBA network has been redesigned many times.

Part of the NFBA grant agreement requires the NFBA to accumulate what are known as in-kind assets, such as towers and land, and lease them from municipalities.

CM Cassidy wanted to know if the leases could be cancelled if the NFBA or a provider didn't use the asset.

Mr. Lort answered, "Yeah, you could do that. That's not a problem."

The NFBA's heralded and just announced partner, Mainstreet Broadband's CEO, told CM Cassidy that as soon as the assets were booked Mainstreet was ready to go. Two months later Mainstreet went bankrupt; disappeared; and barely a word was spoken by the NFBA.

CM Cassidy said that if Dixie County couldn't see a time line for the unserved and underserved, "There is no future benefit for us in this."

He explained that in Dixie County, everywhere the NFBA backbone went, "there is DSL." He asked if the leases could be contingent upon an agreement that services would be available.

"You asked us to commit in-kind assets about 24 months ago, but we didn't commit to what you are about to ask for now. We committed them for the project before, but we didn't have the details at the time, otherwise it would be just paperwork changes vs. fifty year leases. Is that correct?"

Mr. Lort explained it was negotiable.

CM Cassidy said, "You just can't go out and commit a blanket list. It is a lot easier to say we can commit it contingent upon service and a time line... If there was a change, we should have known about it twenty four months ago."

Mr. Lort agreed.

Mr. Lort concluded the discussion, "Let's get back on track. It [this] was a great discussion."

All of the preceding, other than Mr. Cassidy being listed on the attendance list, was scrubbed from the secretive NFBA's minutes.

NFBA Road Show Traveled To Dixie County: Throwing away money a major issue

On July 3, 2012, the NFBA General Manager, Richelle Sucara, and Project Manager, Donny Lort traveled to Dixie County looking for Dixie County's in-kind assets.

The NFBA refuses to release to the press, or anybody else, any calendar of these NFBA visits. The following regarding Dixie County is gleaned from the Dixie County draft minutes of that meeting. Dixie County does not record its meetings.

The NFBA showed up in Dixie County with a map "outlining parts of Dixie County in Gilchrist County." The map was wrong.

County Manager (CM) Cassidy said the staff's opinion was the NFBA had not focused on Dixie County and the attitude of the NFBA was that "We need your assets and we will put them where we want to," and added that the NFBA's throwing away of money was a major issue for Dixie County.

There was a discussion regarding what took place before the arrival of General Manager Sucara. Then there appeared to be a discussion regarding employment at the NFBA.

The minutes state the following: Mr. Lorte [Lort] stated there is no one in Dixie County that has the skill sets to fill the positions that were open for employment. The Board found this statement quite offensive.

Dixie County Commissioner Jason Holifield asked if the NFBA was willing to pay the County for the use of its towers and was told by GM Sucara that would not work.

The discussion continued with the Board agreeing that it wanted broadband in Dixie County, but not at the expense of mishandled funds. The board did not foreclose on the idea of leasing its assets to the NFBA. Then CM Cassidy reminded the Board that it could withdraw from the NFBA.

The Board decided to wait until the next meeting to decide on a resolution to withdraw from the NFBA.

July 19th, Dixie County pulls out of the NFBA

A little over two weeks later, after plenty of time to consider its position, the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners pulled out of the North Florida Broadband Authority citing the following reasons:

As of May 30, 2012, the NFBA could not provide any specific operational plans to expand Broadband in Dixie County beyond the areas already being served by existing providers, which limits service opportunity to the unserved and underserved, failing to meet the intent of the grant, neither could it identify/provide specific plans for the use of any in-kind assets previously listed.

The NFBA has been challenged with issues relative to project management, project costs, project progression, and project completion.

The NFBA has a staff cost that is largely inconsistent with other governmental entities within the RACEC [Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern], as well as principles and practices that are largely inconsistent with Dixie County's principles and practices.

Additionally, Dixie County wished the NFBA well; would consider lease agreements on a case by case basis and stated that it would work cooperatively with the NFBA.


The North Florida Broadband stimulus funded project has been a horror show almost from the beginning. It has been mismanaged and plagued by charges of waste, fraud and abuse to this day. The federal investigation has been covered up and ignored by the Obama administration.

Anyone who has spoken out against the mismanagement of this project has been subject to extreme pressure, character assassination, attack and or insults. Dixie County, in joining the other brave souls who have walked away, refused to join or called for an investigation of this project, took a brave step in joining the select few who have stood up for the principles of good government.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On September 13, MW of Lake City wrote:

I just spoke to Nathan Riska about the NFBA as I have done in the past. I for one still do not see what they have done or are doing. He was helpful as to what the so called watchdogs have done to slow down the money flow. I have looked up in the past the record of this type program across the USA and have not found it to be more than a new type of Government give away.  As I had emailed them and called them several times and did not get a reply  So I told Ander Crenshaw's  office to take me off the email list, as he would not Rep me any more as we will have a new Rep. The emails stopped and then Nathan called.    Thanks for your work.     MW


On September 13, 2012, MH wrote:

In reading your last article on the NFBA I would like to say this. It's really hard to provide internet to people in the country, there are land parcels with hundreds of acres and only one house. Providers need to get higher density locations as well. Each tower must have so many customers to become profitable. If tower space is free there needs to be fewer customers. But, who wants to offer free space when they can get paid out of the stimulus money? The NFBA is not the only greedy company sucking at the well.

What I would enjoy hearing about concerning Mainstreet is who is going to be held accountable? I was told by Ann Mayberry, in the RUS funds department, Mainstreet had 30 days to inform the government of their intentions as to the repayment of monies. What about the people who worked for them and what were their salaries? Where did the money go?


On September 17, 2012, a Florida resident wrote.

What about the jobs they were supposed to create along the way with stimulus?  Did the government require some sort of project plan where milestones were carefully tracked and accounted for?  I thought Joe Biden was going to make sure this money was not wasted in Stimulus?  Great reporting Stew and please keep us Florida residents informed.  Thank you


On September 18, 2012, citizen 49a of Lake City wrote:

This farce has gone on long enough. The people who lead the other municipalities and counties in this area still exhibit enough integrity and moral fiber to send the NFBA packing. That hasn't happened here. Instead, our so-called leaders seem to be getting more intimate and cozier with this bunch. I don't understand why there hasn't been an investigation of these people already. They may be using federal funds, but it appears that there may be probable cause to believe that state laws have been violated. I'm not a lawyer, but it looks to me like there may have been some frauds committed, some possible bribes, some violations of state meetings laws, and had I the background, the interest, the legal responsibility and authority to do something about this, I'm sure I could come up with at least a dozen possible violations of state law. There are enough questions and enough possible violations of state law to warrant further investigation here. Who is responsible for investigating possible violations of state law for the people, the taxpayers, around here? Wouldn't that be the State's Attorney for this area?

Now that we have opened a new chapter in this saga in which the City of Lake City and the NFBA appear to be entering sweetheart agreements to unload PRIVATE property at taxpayer expense, it's time the State's Attorney around here did SOMETHING. Or do the people of this area have to go start digging through the Florida Statutes and try to figure out what specific crimes may have been committed, and then try to somehow convene a grand jury on their own?

I'm tired of reading about the multi-jurisdictional task forces out on the street spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to apprehend the dangerous seat belt criminals around here, and the like.  Here's something that looks like big money and big crime, right in our faces. What does it take to get somebody to do something about it? Are we going to continue to see no one except one independent reporter with an online newspaper trying to use his limited resources, time, and citizen's authority to find out what's going on with these people?


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:
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)