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North Florida Broadband Authority: Wracked by gross mismanagement from the feds on down, the NFBA has become the poster child for non disclosure 

NFBA General Manager, Richelle Sucara, makes a presentation at the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority, the $30,000,000 Obama stimulus funded wireless broadband project that was eventually to bring internet service to the "unserved and underserved" in North Central Florida has gone through multiple attorneys; project managers; compliance officers; and engineering firms, as well as at least three different rate studies; multiple system redesigns and multiple last mile providers.

Overseen at the NTIA by Doug Kinkoph and Chris Holt, the project became a shambles. The NFBA management and their attorney, Jennifer Springfield, have apparently decided it is better to keep the NFBA's business to themselves.

stories are here

Last Wednesday, December 12, 2012, the NFBA saga continued in Putnam County. There were two meetings. The first, an NFBA dog and pony show at the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce; the second at the St. Johns River Water Management District where the monthly NFBA Board meeting was held.

Putnam County wasn't getting the same information as the NFBA Board

On January 31, 2013, the federal grant that has financed the NFBA with $30,000,000 of taxpayer money is over. The NFBA, in order to continue operations and pay off a $750,000 line of unsecured credit to TD Bank, needs enough system revenue, estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000 a month to be self sustaining.

The NFBA's $200,000 a year General Manager, Richelle Sucara, was the first speaker at the Putnam County Chamber luncheon. She announced what those in the know were waiting to hear: "Come February 1st, the North Florida Broadband Authority will be 100% fully operational -- 100% fully sustainable -- sustained by system revenues."

Besides salaries and other expenses, it is estimated that the NFBA must begin paying over $125,000 a month in tower leases and power once February 1, 2013 rolls around.

Even though there was no system traffic for the last three years, the tower leases were prepaid by the federal government.

The NFEDP - Jeff Hendry

GM Sucara introduced the North Florida Economic Development Partnership's Jeff Hendry to the audience. She said, "Jeff has been instrumental over the past 2 ½ years in terms of doing outreach on behalf of the NFBA and trying to communicate the benefits of the NFBA. He’s been very instrumental in getting the NFBA message out into the communities."

The NFBA will not reveal how many customers are on the network, nor will it reveal its system revenues. The last mandatory report to the NTIA showed $2,078 in revenue with only a handful of customers on the NFBA network.

The NFEDP/Jeff Hendry has been paid over $300,000 in NFBA grant money for "getting the NFBA message out into the communities."

Columbia County, the lynch pin of North Central Florida, was the latest member to pull out of the NFBA.

Next Stop, the NFBA Board meeting: a different tune

Lake City, City Manager, Wendell Johnson listens to the auditor report.

At 2 pm the NFBA Board meeting began. It was a different tune.

Your reporter pointed out to the Board that both the NFBA Chairman, Tommy Langford and Vice Chairman, Pat O'Neal ignored recent public record requests. Chairman Langford was absent from the meeting and could not respond. Cedar Key's representative, NFBA Vice Chair Pat O'Neal refused to respond. Mr. O'Neal has routinely ignored public record requests.

Your reporter asked who the last mile providers (the folks that hook people up to the NFBA network) were. No one answered.

Suwannee Valley Internet and Computers (SVIC) is the only NFBA last mile provider known to have lasted more than two months. Before coming on board with the NFBA in July or August (the NFBA won't release their contract) SVIC was a one or two man shop. SVIC, according to the NFBA, is the NFBA's partner.

Your reporter asked about the NFBA's partner. "What is SVIC’s capability should the network be hit with multiple network failures? Who takes care of their customers?" No one answered.

Your reporter asked about the government funded chase to undersell industry service providers (AT&T, Comcast, Windstream, etc) to schools and other public institutions. "Is the NFBA making any distinctions between industry service providers, or is every service provider that is providing bandwidth to a customer fair game for the NFBA?" No one answered.

Your reporter asked what any customer of the NFBA might want to know. "What is the NFBA's response time to lightning strikes on a commercial tower and how much does each response cost and how much down time is acceptable?" No one answered.

About five months ago, INOC contracted, or was supposed to have contracted, with the NFBA to become the Network Operator, monitor the network and run the help desk. These are the folks one calls if they have trouble with their service and want to speak with a live person.

Your reporter asked, "There has been little talk of INOC lately. Are they up and running and monitoring the network, and if so, how many trouble tickets have they written?

Again, no one answered. The word on the street is that INOC has faded into the sunset along with many of the other businesses that have gotten involved with the NFBA.

These questions and others were emailed to the NFBA General Manager and all the NFBA Board members on November 28, 2012. They would not answer then, either.

NFBA Finance Report

Donald Schleicher is the NFBA's Director of Finance. He is listening to the auditor's report.

Had the folks from the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce attended the NFBA Board meeting they may have been amazed to witness the continuing financial nondisclosure of the NFBA General Manager and her staff.

Within the past few months, the NFBA hired a Director of Finance, Donald Schleicher, at a starting base salary of $115,000 per year. The NFBA has no money of its own. He is paid by the American People. The NFBA has approximately 7 employees.

The finance report presented at the NFBA meeting closed out at October 31st. It appears not to have been produced by the NFBA Finance Director, but by the Board's financial consultant, Purvis Gray. There was no explanation presented why the balance sheet was not current, or why the activity ledger, which recorded revenue and expenses by category, was not presented to the Board. No one asked for it.

Just as Finance Director Schleicher was about to walk back to his seat, Baker County representative, Darryl Register asked, "At what point will we see an income statement? I want to see an income or cash flow statement. All we are seeing is these expenses.”

Mr. Register was told, "Until we roll out from under the grant it really doesn’t serve any purpose to view an operating income statement."

Mr. Register was not easily dissuaded, "It seems it would help the Board have a better grasp of sustainability if we had some idea of income based on all the users of our Internet."

Finance Director Schleicher had the look of a deer frozen in the beams of onrushing headlights. He didn't answer.

Baker County's Darryl Register was listens to GM Sucara.

General Manager Sucara came to the rescue and after some talk about NOAA, the parent body of the NTIA who monitors the grant said, "We are working at the NFBA office to put together our sustainability model for February 1st and our grant closeout model. I’d like to have a couple of board meetings in January to follow up with the numbers, if you will. The board would then need to adopt a budget, a form of budget, based on a sustainability model."

Finance Director Schleicher then told the Board, "The balance sheets presented to the Board are for internal use only."

GM Sucara followed up, "There are internal financial statements that we happen to have Purvis Gray compiling for us."

No other member of the NFBA expressed any interest in seeing the material that Mr. Register was seeking. In the past, the NFBA Board, led by Walter McKenzie and Sheryl Millington had expressed that its members are to be team players.

The Auditors: They noticed the NFBA website

The meeting page of the NFBA website a week after the James Moore audit presentation. Click here to enlarge

James Moore and Company presented the FY2011 audit. They didn't look happy. Almost three months after the end of the last fiscal year they have not been engaged to begin the FY2012 audit.

The pitiful state of the NFBA's web site has been out there for the world to see for over a year. In the past, the minutes and agendas of the NFBA meetings were posted on the NFBA website. They were ordered to be taken off, something apparently unknown to James Moore and Company who commented, "If you’re going to have a website don’t do half there, half not. If you’re going to have the minutes out there, just put all the minutes out there. It just makes it easier for people to find stuff."

The GM scheduled two meetings for January. The NFBA web site, as of December 18th, showed no meetings scheduled.

GM Sucara answered the criticism, "We are in the process right now of totally revamping the entire website. It will have a completely new appearance and functionality."

GM Sucara has been saying this for almost a year. The American People also finance the NFBA website. Nothing has changed on the website for the past year, except that it is worse.

The Network and Sustainability: On January 31 the "the train stops"

According the GM Sucara the NTIA has offered to extend the grant six months in a take it or leave it deal.                                                    

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson gave his view of the NFBA situation:

We’ve got to January 31 and the gig is up. There ain’t gonna be no more after that date. There ain’t gonna be no more we’ve got all these things that are gonna happen. We’re gonna be sustained and have enough revenue to plan to have a transition to enough revenue or the doors are gonna shut.

That’s just the way it’s gonna be. Time is of the essence and the vision of these customers comin on ain’t gonna pay the bills... I’m gonna encourage you guys. Whatever we gotta do... (By the next meeting in January)  When you come here there’s gonna be enough customer base and enough revenue comin in that it’s gonna be able to sustain us, along with whatever money's in the bank -- if there is any, then there’s gotta be a plan B. Without that the train stops.

Goin and extendin any relationship with the NTIA -- I still don’t see how anything positive can come of that.

General Manager Sucara responded, "I’m not a big fan of extending it, probably for many of the same reasons that you’re thinking."

NFBA Project Manager Donny Lort added, "We have things going on that are very promising, but there is nothing in writing."

GM Sucara explained, "We are working on multiple fronts. The minute we are up and running somebody will want to knock the wind out of us. That’s how I see it."

Jacob Engineering's top project gun, Jeff Purdy, added, "About a year ago we started to introduce the idea of a network design based on marketing and marketing a program based on design... I think this is going to be a very successful program."

GM Sucara announced that the NFBA was preparing another rate study, which appears to be its fourth in three years.

The folks at the Putnam Chamber of Commerce luncheon missed a whole lot.


Jacobs Engineering's Mark Bonner stands in the glow of the incomplete NFBA network.

The publically funded NFBA has its information, financial and operational, in lock down. With only a little over a month to go before the grant closes down there is no one in the industry who believes the NFBA can generate enough revenue to sustain itself.

The NFBA, who's GM has no private sector business experience, claims to be a certified public account, yet she has produced no revenue or any other kind of financial models that demonstrates the project's sustainability. The almost $100,000 spent on the business model that was produced by Magellan Associates and purported to have been touted by Larry Strickling, head of the NTIA, as the model BTOP sustainability model seems to have been pushed under the carpet.

Before Mainstreet Broadband ceased its operations, according to an ex Mainstreet employee, it had an estimated 6,000 customers in North Central Florida.

If Mainstreet couldn't pay its bills with 6,000 customers in the region, one can only wonder why it is not only a short matter of time before the NFBA just goes away, leaving the unserved and underserved of North Central Florida right back where they started.

The good news for some folks is that the federal investigation into the waste, fraud and abuse at the NFBA will also just go away. 

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