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North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA calls Washington for reinforcements. The workshop w/the Feds. Cheerleading without substance.

The workshop in Fanning Springs was held in a gated community far off the beaten path. Only a hand picked few were notified by the NFBA of the meeting. ABC's Farinas, walking with her camera, was one of what appears to be only two who received a press release from the NFBA.

The NFBA's top brass moments before the meeting began. Left to right, J.W. Arnold (someone who has yet to be introduced to the NFBA board, General Council Jennifer Springfield, General Manager Richelle Sucara, NFBA Chair Tommy Langford.

FANNING SPRINGS, FL – Just before the gavel came down to begin the joint North Florida Broadband Authority/NTIA workshop the NFBA's top brass, along with filmmaker and PR person J.W. Arnold took a final look at the gathering and took their seats.

Chairman Langford asked for comments from the audience. The Observer followed up on the earlier question, "The last quarterly report filed (with the NTIA) showed $2,078 in system revenue. How can that be sustainable? The members of the NFBA have been told for months that the NFBA would be self sustaining by the end of the grant (Jan. 31, 2013).

The Observer continued, "Right now over half the counties, over half the footprint of the NFBA have withdrawn from the North Florida Broadband Authority. I was wondering what the sudden interest is from the Dept. of Commerce and the NTIA and why they haven't gotten involved before this? I was hoping maybe you could share that?

These questions were followed up by questions from the team that designed the network for the grant application in 2009, Darrin Mylet and Jim Selby.

Darrin Mylet asks about the NFBA network. The NTIA's Chris Holt was more interested in how Mr. Mylet found out about the meeting.

Mr. Mylet began, "This is the first time I’ve been back in three years. I’m anxious to see what kind of network has been planned, built and operating." He asked, "Where can you buy capacity? What sort of capacity is running through links? Is that something the NFBA can supply?"

Jim Selby followed up and explained that he was a "wireless engineer.” He also asked to see information showing the status of the network.

There were no more questions.

Chairman Langford and General Manager Sucara went into a huddle. When they came out, Chairman Langford's response to the questions followed, "The NFBA was here to stay."

Chairman Langford introduced the NFBA Project Manager Donny Lort. Mr. Lort was not in the earlier huddle. He addressed the question of the amount of customers on the network.

The number of customers? We get asked that all the time. You can grab at numbers you want. You can use the CAI [community anchor institution] count that some people like to use. You can use the business number. You can use three, because we have three last mile providers. In all essence we have over 600 people on the network when you start addin' up the last mile providers; the direct connects and CAI's and all. I mean, they're the facts...

Earlier, while ABC's Farinas was interviewing the NTIA's Wilhelm he stated that the NFBA had fewer than a hundred customers.

While Mr. Lort was speaking a simple scan of the NFBA network revealed 88 end points or customer routers. This is the way public IP addresses are assigned.

General Manager Sucara:  She said she was setting the record straight

Chairman Langford and GM Sucara huddle up during Mr. Mylet's questions. When they were done, answers were not forthcoming.

General Manager Sucara told the gathering, "We need to separate the fact from fiction; the myth from the reality and set the record straight... We worked with providers -- many of them came in -- or at least some of them I should say came in with really good ideas -- good intentions -- but at the end of the day they couldn't execute their business plan."

The NFBA has been scrambling to find other last mile providers to join Suwannee Valley Internet Corp. (SVIC), the one time one man shop; RocketCom, a company that is buying NFBA bandwidth to resell in Georgia and Webkraft. The NFBA is now reaching out to satellite providers, as there are no mainline wireless internet service providers or mainline service providers that will work with them.

General Manager Sucara said this to the Feds regarding SVIC, "We're completely dependent on them."

One criticism of the NFBA has been that they are competing against established Internet service providers in the urban areas. General Manager Sucara stated that she is doing that because that's where the community anchor institutions (schools, government, hospitals) are located.

She said, "There just aren't community anchor institutions out in the rural area in North Florida."

General Manager Sucara and her Finance Director, Donald Schleicher have not provided meaningful financial figures to the NFBA Board since the summer of 2012.

Many of the counties that have withdrawn from the project have not believed the General Manager's statement, "There is no waste, fraud, and abuse."

When asked, the NFBA has refused to turn over meaningful financial figures to the most recent counties that have withdrawn.

GM Sucara said, "We find ourselves responding to a variety of misinformation and perceptions that were developed over a period of time. I have talked so much about the waste fraud and abuse perception that I can just hardly utter of the words. There is no waste, fraud and abuse."

General Manager Sucara stated, "I came on board and became the general manager of this project in October of 2011.

Ms. Sucara failed to state there was no competitive hiring process and that she was hired and began being paid when she was on vacation in Indiana with her mother.

GM Sucara stated, "We're spending our money frugally -- we're spending it wisely." She added that the Feds know exactly how the money is being spent.

The original NFBA budget for administrative and legal expenses was $542,000. By June 30, 2012 the NFBA has spent $2,211,979.96 and was anticipating spending another million and a half more. The NFBA has run up bills with Cynthia Schultz of the Washington law firm of Patten Boggs of up $85,000 a month. The local law firm of Springfield Law has charged the NFBA up to $23,000 a month.

No industry recognized Network Operator has signed on to the NFBA and the NFBA will not answer questions regarding the no bid $50,000 a month deal it has made with SVIC to monitor the network.

The General Manager told the Feds and the Board that the NFBA is a success and has met its milestones. "Now we are rolling out the enhancements and building more capacity."

General Manager Sucara said, "It is just preposterous that I am making decisions without the Board's input."

GM Sucara claimed that the Board was totally involved in the decision to extend the end of the grant.

During the December 12, 2012 board meeting when this was discussed, NFBA general council Jennifer Springfield refused to allow the meeting to be recorded and announced that they (the NFBA) were recording the meeting. The NFBA audio from that meeting has disappeared without explanation.

GM Sucara said she hoped she would be able to provide the right information to Gilchrist County who voted to depart from the NFBA on March 4th. Their resolution, memorializing their vote, was scheduled for a vote later in the day.

Before turning over the stage to the Fed's Tony Wilhelm she said, "Today I want to celebrate that the network is up and running. It's great. It's fabulous. Now we need to get enough customers on board so that we are here for the long haul."

Since the end of 2012, General Manager Sucara has claimed that the NFBA would be self sustaining by the end of the grant on January 31, 2013. It isn't.

TONY Wilhelm - The cheerleading began

The NTIA's Tony Wilhelm told the gathering the NFBA had an important mission. There is a huge problem in the rural areas of America with Internet access. Mr. Wilhelm said the program was a golden opportunity to leapfrog the area into the 21st century. "Let's make it happen" he said.

The NTIA's Wilhelm held up a sheet of paper showing a list of in-kind assets. He did not announce that the grant had been extended to September 30th, nor did he tell anyone how much money was left in the grant.

Mr. Wilhelm said, "This is going to be a great thing for North Florida... You are  competing against the rest of the world -- they're passing us by because we're sitting in groups like this arguing with ourselves. You can't get stuff done."

"We're willing to help in any way we can -- on the financial side -- in the terms of progressing a business model. I'm willing to talk to folks and give them a pep talk. There is a lot of misinformation out there... I don't have the truth or the answers. I'm in Washington. I don't know. What I do know is that broadband is a good thing. That's all I can tell you... Let's just make this happen."

Mr. Wilhelm offered to answer any questions. There were none and the federal entourage that had migrated from Washington to give the NFBA general manager technical assistance sat idle as each successive board member spoke about the benefits of the project for them.

Walter McKenzie: file photo

Walter McKenzie, Vice Mayor of White Springs, had the most novel presentation.

Mr. McKenzie:  I thought as we were standing here sayin' the pledge of allegiance how alike it is that there are folks that are signing petitions to secede from the United States. You can't have it both ways. We pledged allegiance to this project.

Mr. McKenzie was worried that the next time White Springs went to Washington to ask for money he wouldn't get it because some folks backed out of the North Florida Broadband Authority.

He said, "Don't put me in that position."

FSU's Jeff Hendry: folks are poisoned

The Federally sponsored NFBA pep rally concluded with FSU's Jeff Hendry, the Executive Director of the NFEDP. The NFEDP has received over $360,000 of NFBA grant money to promote the NFBA project and do community outreach. At times Mr. Hendry (NFEDP) was getting $10,000 a month for his efforts. Mr. Hendry is and has been directly responsible for community outreach. Half the counties have withdrawn.

He told the gathering. "We still have a great core group. There have been counties that have withdrawn. I think some of them may come back -- some of them may not. They may be poisoned so badly just from misinformation that's been given either directly to them or from various news outlets."

The workshop concluded with nothing accomplished. In two hours the Fed's road show would be moving to the Gilchrist County seat. There they would try to convince the Gilchrist County Commission not to pass its resolution withdrawing from the NFBA.

Coming in part 3 – The NFBA: the Feds meet the Gilchrist County Commission

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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)