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North Florida Broadband Authority: More bad news. Last Mile Wifi CEO, "I knew they were going to extort me."

An upbeat Tom Gregory in August.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The saga of the ill fated Obama Stimulus funded North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) continues. The November Board meeting was cancelled due to the sudden firing of loyal Board Clerk Faith Doyle. A week before, the NFBA's Community Outreach Director, Theresa Westberry, suddenly resigned, but the best kept secret of all was the earlier demise of the NFBA's second last mile provider, Last Mile Wifi, run by 30 year industry veteran Tom Gregory, who learned that 30 years in the industry couldn't protect him from the NFBA culture.

Last Mile Wifi's story with the NFBA began about the time of the demise of Mainstreet Broadband.

On August 1, 2012, the day the news was released that Mainstreet Broadband had ceased its operations, Tom Gregory, CEO of Last Mile WiFi of North Carolina, was introduced to the NFBA during its August 1st, 10 am meeting. The Observer had received a call on the way to the meeting that Mainstreet had ceased operations that morning. Neither the NFBA management, nor the NFBA Chairman said a word about the Mainstreet situation. Mainstreet Broadband was the NFBA's prime business partner.

Tom Gregory introduced himself to the NFBA that morning. He said, "You can tell the pioneers in the communications business by the arrows in their backs." Mr. Gregory was soon to learn about the NFBA.

Last Mile Wifi: in the beginning

On August 19th, your reporter spoke with Mr. Gregory. He was upbeat about his relationship with the NFBA and was looking forward to connecting folks to the internet.

Your reporter asked Mr. Gregory, "There are a lot of people who look at the track record of the NFBA and have major reservations about doing business with them. Do you have any feelings about that?"

He replied, "People like myself and my team -- we have the expertise to do this. I've got major networks throughout this country in major situations for 30 years. I'm no babe in the woods. I used to live in Texas. This isn't my first rodeo."

September 17, 2012: contract terminated

The termination of the contract between the NFBA and Last Mile Wifi was in actuality by mutual consent. Neither party was very happy with the other.

On October 5, the Observer asked Last Mile Wifi's Gregory about some of the issues that led to the breakup.

Mr. Gregory explained some of the problems with the network. He said, "The tower signals were coming and going and most of the NFBA towers are in the middle of nowhere and are useless for hooking up customers. In August there were barely any towers that could talk to end-users. It is a very unfortunate situation. The NFBA built a superhighway without any off ramps."

Last Mile Wifi's Tom Gregory locked out of the NFBA warehouse.

Last Mile Wifi: taking it on the chin

After the breakup of the NFBA and Last Mile Wifi, everywhere that the Observer heard the NFBA team speak, Last Mile Wifi was bashed. Bashing was nothing new for the NFBA, who had been through four engineers, various attorneys, project managers and compliance officers.

Through September 30, 2012, the NFBA had spent 28 1/4 million dollars of the American People's money and had $2,078 in total program income (revenue). The NFBA is in debt to the tune of $750,000 to TD Bank, plus interest.

October 10, 2012: NFBA Director, Baker County's Darryl Register

On October 10, 2012, Darryl Register, at the monthly NFBA Board meeting asked Project Manager Donny Lort, "How many last mile provider customers do we have connected using our broadband?"

The NFBA's Lort replied, "I don’t know the specific number, but probably about 50 new customers. That would include residents, business, anchor institutions."

Reports filed by the NFBA with the Federal Government show that through September 30, 2012, the NFBA had 11 anchor institutions, 0 residents, and 0 business hooked up to the NFBA network. This would mean that in the following 7 business days, the NFBA would have had to have gained "about" 39 new customers.

The NFBA's track record does not support that figure.

Through October, November to the present, the Observer has had an ongoing conversation with Last Mile Wifi's Gregory

The Observer asked, "Mr. Gregory, the NFBA has spoken about the Aucilla Christian Academy. I believe that was your first connection."

Mr. Gregory answered, "It was. I was having a lot of trouble with the network signal. It was coming and going. The network signal was not stable. We told the NFBA there was a problem. They said they were working on it. They said it would take a few days to fix. They didn't fix it the whole time we were on the tower."

The Observer followed up, "But what about the problems with the school. Was there a problem?"

Mr. Gregory, "Unfortunately, one of my installers left a bracket loose. When the wind blew, the antenna moved. They were only without service for a couple of days. We went back and got everything straightened out. When we left, the service was working fine."

The Observer asked, "There has been a lot of talk about North Florida Workforce in Madison. Can you tell me something about that?"

Mr. Gregory, "Sure, while all this was going on I hooked up the North Florida Workforce in Madison. It was working perfectly when we left. All the equipment used to facilitate the installation was mine. They had a perfect signal to work with when we left. All their IT personnel had to do was connect."

The Observer, "Was Workforce being serviced by private industry before you went in there?"

Mr. Gregory, "Yes. I had four of my antennas installed on the tower in Madison and was preparing to service the entire area."

The Observer, "So what happened?"

Mr. Gregory, "The NFBA stole my customer and took it for themselves. Then they took my antennas off the tower. They never told me they were going to do that."

The Observer, "I heard you hooked up the NFBA headquarters in Lake City?"

Mr. Gregory, "I did. They are refusing to pay for that, as well as thousands of dollars of other equipment, some of which was even shipped to the Project Manager's house."

Last Mile Wifi's gear

The Observer, "I met you in Lake City on November 20th and you were locked out of the warehouse and no one would give you your gear. What was with that?"

Mr. Gregory, "You will recall that when I met you at the warehouse the door was locked. I drove from North Carolina the day before and stayed at a motel. That night, at about 10 o'clock, I heard from Donny Lort and he said the paper work wasn't ready and I would have to wait at least another week. I couldn't believe it. I think they were using my equipment and stalling me."

November 29th, finally

On November 29th, Tom Gregory drove back to Lake City again. Two days before, he received a release via e mail. Much of his equipment was not on the material list attached to the release. When he arrived in Lake City he went directly to the NFBA warehouse.

He met with Gary Andresen and Dale Richards, NFBA employees. "When I went there I asked if I could see my stuff. They said, “'No, we can’t show it to you. We can’t do anything. You have to go sign the papers at the main office.'”

Mr. Gregory continued, "I went to the main office. As I expected they didn’t have the papers. It was a good thing I brought my laptop so I could give the file to the secretary. She printed it out and I signed it. After I signed it she called General Manger Sucara and Donny Lort to make sure it was still okay for them to release my equipment. Then I drove back to the warehouse. The NFBA crew checked and told me I could get my stuff."

The Observer, "You had previously tried to pick up your stuff the week before on the 20th. Did you expect smooth sailing? Did you expect to get all your stuff?"

Mr. Gregory said, "I knew they were going to extort me. They had my stuff and they knew I wanted it. I knew this was going to happen before I showed up. If I didn’t sign that damn piece of paper, I was sure I would never see my equipment again. I wouldn’t have gotten anything.

Mr. Gregory continued, "I sent them a spread sheet after I picked up my material. The spread sheet was a total reconciliation of all the time and materials they owed me. They still owed me thousands. This was the best of a bad situation."

The Observer, "What do you plan to do, if anything?"

Last Mile Wifi's Gregory, "I have to explore my options. I may go to the Justice Department or the OIG. I am also considering contacting the newly elected State Attorney in Lake City. Some bad stuff has gone on and is going on here. Something should be done." 

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On December 11, 2012, an industry veteran wrote (name withheld):

I am an industry veteran of more then 20 years on the communication industry.  Tower companies Sprint, SBA, Crown Castle, and American tower do not allow subleasing of their towers.  Seems the North Florida Broadband Authority makes its own rules.

A serious accident where someone gets killed may be the only thing that wakes NFBA, tower companies and the Federal Government up to what is going on here.

Who's insurance will be responsible and will the American People be footing that bill?  Will the Feds be culpable in the lawsuit for allowing this to continue?


On December 16, 2012, a North Florida Broadband Authority whistle blower wrote:

Whistleblower case # DOC-OIG-11-08-0013 Pin # B686

Here we are 1+ year later and they (NFBA) have almost spent ALL the Obama stimulus money just like I said they would, crookedly and end up with NO network and crap for the people.

As a whistle blower I told several layers of Government that this exact thing was going to happen sir.

Is it not “negligence” on behalf of all the investigators and subject matter experts that let these crooks STEAL?

I lost my job, and Obama lost $30 Million.

And now, yet one more company gets screwed and he will contact OIG? That sir is a joke! These people screwed all of us, and I am still trying to recover personally.

Should I suit OIG for negligence? Can I get money from whistleblowing and specifically stating that we would be here today just like this “after” a major investigation?

I told you guys everything and nothing…all the money is gone, people’s lives are screwed, companies are broke, and we have definitely been STIMULATED!                   Laz


On December 17, 2012 citizen49a of Lake City wrote:

In answer to the Whistleblower above:

No, it is not negligence by the investigators and experts that lets these crooks steal.  The "investigators" and "experts" KNOW what is going on. The evidence has been presented here for all to see. The "investigators" and "experts" choose not to do anything.

That is the way things work in this county, judicial district, and country now. Get used to it, because it's going to get worse. It starts with payoffs and looking the other way. In the future you can expect open bribery, extortion, and worse.  And after they take away all the guns, it gets even better.


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)