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

After months of reports by Baker County's Darryl Register, Baker County became the 7th county to withdraw from the Obama stimulus funded North Florida Broadband Authority.

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BAKER COUNTY, FL – Late yesterday afternoon, Baker County became the 7th of the fourteen original counties to pull out of the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA). The woebegotten Obama stimulus funded broadband project has been plagued by charges of waste, fraud and abuse; been accused by many of inept and incompetent oversight by the NTIA and worse local management; an investigatory cover-up by the OIG and the FBI of previous and continuing wrong doing; and finally, the straw that broke the backs of Baker County's elected public officials, using federal money to start a government sponsored business to compete against private enterprise.

Trouble had been brewing for a while

On November 19, 2012, Baker County's representative to the NFBA, Darryl Register, reported to the Baker County Commission that all was not well at the NFBA, but that he and former Baker County, County Commissioner, Mike Griffis, an executive with a local telecom company, had spoken and agreed to recommend that "Baker County stay in the Broadband Authority at least until the end of the grant on January 31st [2013]."

Mr. Register, who is the Director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, told the County Commission, "If it implodes on itself because it is not sustainable, it ends."

Mr. Register continued, "I don't know if there is any advantage to withdrawing at this point, as long as the Broadband Authority does not move forward with any new borrowing. If the board decides to move forward with any new borrowing, I say we pull the plug... I don't think us pulling out will stop them from coming here to sell Internet to Baker County businesses and residences. They will do that anyway. It is our recommendation that we continue to monitor."

Baker County's County Attorney, Terry Brown, explained why Bradford County, also his client, withdrew from the NFBA. Bradford County was the first North Central Florida County to pull out:

Bradford County did not believe that it would be financially sustainable. We have serious -- I mean serious questions about the management team that had been hired and the other professionals. It was lucrative for all the people on the inside that had all the contracts. At the time Bradford County pulled out it did not appear as if the network was even going to get built. A lot of money was being used very quickly in terms of contracts for people being paid, but there wasn't much to show for it... Now they're using Obama stimulus money to compete with business and private enterprise. There are problems for people -- philosophically for that.

Mr. Register told the County Commission, "And I am one of those people at heart."

Mr. Register explained that if the NFBA came into Baker County they would target the big customers like Northeast Florida State Hospital. "They target those because they are a big customer. Today there is a private company providing that service."

County Commissioner Jimmy Anderson asked, "Are you saying that this is basically funded by government - the broadband thing to compete with private enterprise with the Internet? I'm in private business and I don't want the government competing against me... I just think as a government entity we are here to support private industry. Not to compete."

Mr. Register added, "The sustainability of the network is really in question."

Commissioner Adam Giddens, added, "It seems to me that this is a failed attempt to make business work through a grant and it just didn't work. Now they're trying to change their mission. I don't like any of this."

Mr. Register, "They are not concentrating on trying to reach out to rural areas."

Commissioner Gordon Crews drew the line in the sand, "Maybe we could give Darryl some direction; that if January rolls around and they are not sustainable; if they are continuing to compete with the private sector -- we pull out."

Mr. Register told the Board, "I certainly would support that... We will keep you updated."

February 5, 2013:  Darryl Register reports to the Baker County Commission

Two weeks ago Darryl Register reported back to the Baker County Commission. His report was brief.

Mr. Register explained to the Commissioners that the federal government (NTIA) extended the term of the grant.

There was almost two million dollars of stimulus funding left in the grant. The NFBA had almost no revenue stream to support its inflated salaries and other expenses, which are minimally $200,000 a month. There is no business plan.

Mr. Register told the Commissioners, "There is some additional money in the grant and it gives them the opportunity to spend that money."

Mr. Register had additional concerns. He said that management acts without involving the NFBA board and seeking board approval.

Mr. Register explained that the NFBA board was advised that NFBA management would possibly be applying for an extension of the grant and subsequent to that communication from management ceased. "We were told it was a possibility and then -- here is a copy of the letter that we submitted."

Mr. Register also expressed concerns regarding the lawsuit filed by the former NFBA Board Clerk against the NFBA, the NFBA Chairman and the NFBA General Manager. He said the reason for the lawsuit was violation of the Fair Labor Standards act and wrongful termination.

A County Commissioner said, "I don't think it's the kind of company that Baker County needs to be involved in. It sounds shady to me."

The Commissioner asked that a resolution withdrawing from the NFBA be put on the next agenda.

Baker County: Late yesterday afternoon

Baker County had used up all the discussion regarding the North Florida Broadband Authority.

County Manager C.J. Thompson introduced the resolution, the first resolution of the year for Baker County:  The first item I have before you, as discussed at the last meeting is resolution 2013 -- 01. It is a resolution withdrawing the Baker County, County Commission from the North Florida Broadband Authority.

County Manager Thompson read the resolution, which in relevant part stated the following:

The North Florida Broadband Authority was awarded a grant in the amount of $30,142,676 to develop a network to serve the unserved and underserved and promote economic development. The Board of County Commissioners entered into the interlocal agreement for the purpose of helping to bring the "middle mile" of a broadband internet to the underserved areas of North Florida and appointed dedicated and qualified members to NFBA who strived to effectuate those goals.

Despite its best efforts, the North Florida Broadband Authority is now moving in a direction which is contrary to the original stated goals of the member governments, including Baker County. The County Commissioners desire to protect the citizens of Baker County while encouraging and supporting the growth of existing businesses and the development of new businesses within the county.

The Board of County Commissioners finds this resolution to be in the best interest of Baker County, Florida, and its citizens.

Epilogue: "Has anything changed?"

Baker County's Darryl Register tried to get the NFBA to be accountable. He was not successful. As the sun set last night, Mr. Register answered one final question.

Before the final vote Commissioner James Croft invited Mr. Register to the microphone.

"Mr. Register, has anything changed since the last meeting that would make you hesitate on this?"

Mr. Register was to the point, "No Commissioner. I attended the last meeting of the Broadband Authority last Wednesday in Madison and I didn't hear anything or any new information that would lead me to think you were going in the wrong direction."

Without any other discussion the motion carried unanimously.

The gavel came down sealing the vote.

Baker County became the 7th county to withdraw from the North Florida Broadband Authority.

Comments  (to add a comment go here

Posted on Feb 20, 2013, Elaine R. Davis of Bainbridge Island, WA wrote:

Dear Mr. Lilker:

I just wanted to take a moment to commend you on your reporting and commentary on the government-funded broadband agency in your area.

I've been working on municipalization policy and fiscal analysis  in Washington State and around the country since the early days of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Since 2001, I have been running the Fair Competition Alliance, which works to help inform Washington State communities about the municipalization activities in their areas. Part of this effort in recent months/years has been to simply collect and disseminate news from Washington and throughout the country on municipalization efforts. I comment periodically, but mostly just send out news link (the 'ink' generated by municipalization advocates far outweighs that of muni-skeptics), then I archive the links on our website (the archiving happens with a delay…there's been so much, it's been hard to keep up).

I wanted to let you know that your work is appreciated and that there are others throughout the country laboring in the same vineyard. If I can help at all, please don't hesitate to pick up the phone or email me.           Elaine

Elaine R. Davis
Executive Vice President
Fair Competition Alliance
321 High School Rd. NE D-3
PMB #233
Bainbridge Island, WA  98110


On Feb 20, 2013, KS wrote:


Thank you for your tireless reporting on this story. Since your first report in 2011 on the mismanagement of the NFBA and the reckless misuse of public funds, our hard earned tax dollars, I have followed this story closely.  I am amazed at the blatant mismanagement and gross misconduct by the NFBA in operating the grant, the NTIA in managing the grant, and the OIG in its investigations.  I cannot understand why no one, Federal or State, has or will do anything to address the mismanagement and misuse of public funds.  This was designed to be a great program, bringing high-speed internet access to areas that were under/unserved in the North Florida region.

It is unconscionable that this project has been allowed to steal from the American tax payer and from those who this program was designed to assist.

Thank you for seeking out and reporting the facts, for being diligent in tracking and tracing all the convoluted relationships and money trails, and continuing to shine a light into this mess known as the NFBA.        Ks


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