Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA calls Washington for reinforcements. First stop Fanning Springs. The run up.

The NITA's Tony Wilhelm flew into N. Florida from Washington with a contingent to do damage control at the NFBA.

Fanning Springs, FL – Reeling from a continuous stream of defections at the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA), the NFBA General Manager, Richelle Sucara, secretly called in the Feds for reinforcements to help stem the tide of member counties pulling the plug on the organization. At 1 o'clock Monday afternoon, Tony Wilhelm, Director of the Obama stimulus funded $250mil Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, the organization that awarded $30 million to the NFBA, arrived with a Federal contingent from Washington. The contingent could not meet at the NFBA offices because they were abandoned. The NFBA couldn't afford the rent.

In September of 2011 the NFBA's $30mil federal grant was suspended because of charges of waste; fraud; and abuse. In October of 2011 a new management team purportedly approved by the NTIA and headed by Alachua County's Richelle Sucara took control.

On October 21, 2011, the then Board Chairman Stephen Fulford of Jefferson County asked the Board to remove without cause the third engineering firm from the project, Rapid Systems of Tampa. Rapid Systems was ready to begin putting customers on the Network.

Neither the NTIA, nor its project managers, Doug Kinkoph and Chris Holt, did anything to stop the bloodletting. It would be almost a year before any customer was on the network.

Concurrent with the hiring of General Manager Sucara and ex GSG employee Donny Lort; the firing of Rapid Systems and the hiring of the fourth engineering firm, Jacobs Engineering, some members of the NFBA's original 14 counties began having issues with the management, direction, economy and transparency of the NFBA.

"It's just out of whack."

On April 2, 2012, Bradford County was the first of fourteen of the NFBA's original counties to withdraw. They were followed shortly thereafter by the City of Perry, whose city manager told the city council, "It's (NFBA) just out of whack."

As time moved into 2013, half of the original counties had withdrawn and on March 4, 2013, Gilchrist County had voted to withdraw and was scheduled to discuss a resolution finalizing its earlier decision at 4:45pm, a few hours after the hastily convened NFBA workshop.

The NFBA Fanning Springs meeting was barely publicized. It was billed as a workshop with the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). While the Federal contingent was seven strong, it was obvious after a few moments that the Feds, as well as the NFBA management and Board were not in Fanning Springs to answer any questions.

The Gainesville Sun characterized the meeting as a "Pep Rally."

NFBA Chairman Langford and ABC News

ABC's Yaremi Farinas questions the NFBA's Chairman, Gilchrist County's Tommy Langford.

Before the meeting was gaveled to order, Yaremi Farinas of ABC affiliate WCJB asked NFBA Board Chair Tommy Langford what the meeting was about.

The NFBA's Langford answered, "We asked the administrators from Washington DC that oversee the project to come down and plan some strategy to take it to the next level. The network is designed; it's built; it's ready to be used. We actually have customers hooked up."

ABC's Farinas followed up, "Today are you going to be listening to people from the public? Are they going to be able to speak?"

Chairman Langford, who had the responsibility of approving the agenda, responded, "I'm not sure exactly what the agenda is. It's mostly a meeting with the NTIA out of Washington DC. It is a public meeting. I don't know how much the public will actually be able to speak... We want the citizens to get involved."

ABC's Farinas, "What would be the reason that counties would pull out? I don't understand that. What reason have they given you?"

The NFBA's Langford, "Politics and competition. There's a lot of false information out there; a lot of false accusations; a lot of lies being told; a lot of rumors being spread. Some people chose to listen to that and not do their homework and research the facts. That's part of the problem. And we're going to be addressing that."

NTIA BTOP Director, Tony Wilhelm

Ms. Farinas got right to the point with Director Wilhelm, "What kind of information are you going to provide to the directors today?"

Director Wilhelm answered, "We're here for technical assistance because the network is at a point now where they really need the full support of the communities down here. We want to make sure that we can continue to keep the organizations in the network that committed to this and it would be great to continue that commitment to see this through to success."

Ms. Farinas followed up, "Do you guys have a goal – say in a year or two?"

Director Wilhelm, "Well, the goal is to get to financial stability -- financial sustainability. Part of the discussion down here is about what are the right models to get to financial sustainability... We're down here to clear up some of those misperceptions."

The Observer asked, "When do you expect them to reach financial sustainability?

Director Wilhelm, "That's one of the conversations we're having here and at the board meeting. I just came down this morning."

The Observer tried to follow up, "The fourth quarter - the revenue was $2,078."

The NFBA has expenses approaching $250,000 a month.

NFBA Attorney, Jennifer Springfield, jumped in and grabbed Dir. Wilhelm by the arm and began to pull him away. "Stew, I'm sorry. He doesn't have time to answer questions right now.

The Observer, "He doesn't have time to answer questions?"

Attorney Springfield continued pulling Dir. Wilhelm away as he tried to speak.

The Observer, "You don't mind if I ask you that question inside?

Director Wilhelm, "Not at all."

Coming in part 2 – The NFBA: the workshop with the Feds – cheerleading without substance

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Links to the NFBA series:

Tower Climber Sues - Not paying vendors - Nothing new for the NFBA
(Part XLII) Posted June 26, 2013

Stimulus funded 800 lb gorilla puts squeeze on financially strapped Bradford County Schools
(Part XLI) Posted May 16, 2013

Obama Broadband Grant Recipient, FRBA, Sued by Tampa Based Internet Company, Rapid Systems, Inc. for $25,000,000
(Related article) Posted April 23, 2013

Gilchrist County pulls the plug on the NFBA in another unanimous vote
(Part XL, part 3 of 3) Posted March 22, 2013

The workshop w/the Feds. Cheerleading without substance.
(Part XL, part 2 of 3) Posted March 21, 2013

NFBA calls Washington for reinforcements. First stop Fanning Springs. The run up.
(Part XL, part 3 of 1) Posted March 20, 2013

Gilchrist County becomes the eighth county to pull out. "I don't like the way the NFBA does its business," Com. D. Ray...
(Part XXXIX) Posted March 5, 2013

Federal hearing may answer what is the measure of success at the NFBA
(Part XXXVIII) (Posted February 26)

Baker County becomes the 7th north central Florida county to pull out of Obama stimulus funded NFBA
(Part XXXVII) (February 19, 2013)

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)

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

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

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

• 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)

Suwannee County tells the NFBA – One more strike and you're out
(PartXXXI) (December 20, 2012)

Wracked by gross mismanagement from the feds on down, the NFBA has become the poster child for non disclosure
(Part XXX) (December 18, 2012)

More bad news. Last Mile Wifi CEO, "I knew they were going to extort me."
(Part XXIX) December 10, 2012

NFBA failed to make the grade in Gilchrist County
(Part XXVIII) (November 29, 2012)

Columbia County Pulls Out of Obama Funded Stimulus Project
(Part XXVII) (November 2, 2012)

The NFBA road show traveled to an unprepared Columbia County with misinformation, half truths, and just plain lies
(Part XXVI) (Posted October 9, 2012)

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)

• Another County pulls out. Dixie says throwing away money a major issue.
(Part XXIV) (Posted September 13, 2012)

NFBA road shows moves to Lake City for a double dose of free money
(Part XXIII) (Posted September 5, 2012)

Secrecy and a lawyer's spread sheet. It's business as usual at the NFBA.
(Part XXII) (Posted August 22, 2012)

Mainstreet Broadband, NFBA's touted business partner, goes bust
(Part XXI) (Posted August 2, 2012)

• Two cities say "no mas." Refuse free tower space to NFBA
(Part XX)  (Posted July 26, 2012)

Taylor County Says Goodbye, "I don't think our county should be involved."
(Part XIX) (Posted April 18, 2012)

• Perry Pulls Out, City Manager tells Council, "It's just out of whack"
(Part XVIII) (Posted April 11, 2012)

Bradford County Says "No Mas" – Pulls Out
(Part XVII) (Posted April 4, 2012)

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)

Propped up by the Feds, financed by the American People - Who can you trust?
(Part XIV) (Posted Feb 25, 2012)

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Not for them
(Part XIII) (Posted Jan 13, 2011)

A Lawyer's Dream. A Look At The Numbers
(Part XIIb) (Posted Dec 29, 2011)

A Lawyer's Dream. Money Is No Object
(Part XIIa) (Posted Dec 28, 2011)

Feds come to town – Working under the cover of darkness was their MO
(Part XI) (Posted November 23, 2011)

Feds continue investigation - Interim GM rehires resigned firms employees
(part X) (Posted Nov 11, 2011)

"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)

• Redefining "Good Business Sense?"
(Part VIII) (Posted October 25, 2011)

• Feds resume funding – Put small vendors first
(Part VII) (Posted October 20, 2011)

Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resign (Part VIb)  (Posted Oct 14, 2011)

Blood in the street (Part VIa)  (posted Oct 13, 2011)

"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)