Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority:
Final Act of Desperation, $30 mil Obama Stimulus Network going for $4 mil

What is left of the North Florida Broadband Authority met in Bronson yesterday morning.

NORTH CENTRAL, FL – Originally supported in 2010 by 14 North Central Florida counties and hastily pulled together by FSU's Jeff Hendry of the North Florida Economic Development Partnership, the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) was awarded a $30 million Obama stimulus BTOP grant to build a wireless broadband middle mile network. The network ran through 14 of North Central Florida's poorest and most economically challenged counties.

stories are here

Beginning in October 2011, after a major upheaval and suspension of the grant and the hiring of Richelle Sucara as its general manager, eight of the 14 counties pulled out of the NFBA. Questions of mismanagement followed the NFBA wherever it went and it was obvious that Ms. Sucara's claims of NFBA sustainability by January of 2013 were nothing but propaganda and pipe dreams.

Yesterday morning, in a deal supported and facilitated by the NTIA, the inept federal agency that facilitates the Obama BTOP stimulus grants and Patton Boggs' Cynthia Schultz, what was left of the NFBA agreed to give the $30 million network to Affiniti, formally Trillion Partners for a "maximum $4 million commitment in the next 24 months.”

General Manager Sucara gave the roster of the NFBA's negotiating team: herself; Chairman Kirk Reams; NFBA General Counsel Jennifer Springfield; Project Manager Donny Lort.

General Manager Sucara left out negotiating team member Tommy Langford, whose county while he was Chairman of the NFBA, withdrew its support and pulled out.

It is not clear if the negotiating team did its due diligence regarding Affiniti. The only other contender voluntarily pulled out of the negotiations.

At 3 a.m. this morning, a Google search for Affiniti revealed that Affiniti's web presence was almost nonexistent.

Levy County Commissioner, John Meeks

A quick examination of Affiniti, when it was Trillion Partners, Inc., showed that it was investigated by the Arizona Atty. Gen. in 2009. That investigation revealed numerous violations by Trillion: including violating antitrust laws; school procurement codes; and E-rate program rules. (The complete Arizona AG Antitrust Unit report is here)

Levy County Commission John Meeks told the NFBA Board that there was no time to be wasted in approving the Affiniti-NFBA agreement.

The NFBA and TD Bank

Besides stiffing many of its vendors, the NFBA maintained a $750,000 line of credit with TD Bank, which was Mercantile Bank at the time the uncollateralized line of credit was established. That line of credit was maxed out quite a while ago and interest has been accruing for the past three years.

The NFBA Board promised to repay the loan.

General Manager Sucara told the Board that Affiniti would be responsible for the loan and that it would be repaid using system revenues. "The NFBA will not be responsible for the repayment, Affiniti will be responsible for the repayment, although the note is expected to stay in the name of the NFBA," she said.

After expending $30 million: The NFBA reported to the Federal Government that ending June 30, 2013, the NFBA, since the beginning of the grant has had total program income of $35,478.

At the end of the first quarter of 2013, total program income was $26,878.

The average income for each of  the three months of the 2nd quarter of 2013 was $2,866.67.

General Counsel Springfield explained, "The reason that the note will stay in the name of the NFBA is that put us and Affiniti in a better bargaining position with respect to the bank."

General Manager Sucara, "I need to say for the record that many of these transactions happened before you hired me. Obviously, the NFBA is out of money. We can't pay this. We haven't been able to pay it."

"Negativity Campaigners"

General Manager Sucara explains the struggle and the "negativity campaigners."

Ms. Sucara continued, "We've struggled. We tried to get customers hooked up. The negativity campaign that was launched against the NFBA was so massive -- our customers were actually called by negativity campaigners. We have done the best that we can and to get the private sector here with a maximum commitment of $4 million in the next 24 months. I call that success."

Ms. Sucara said, "We're trying to keep the Board's foot in the door. We don't have much negotiating power on our side. Look at the debts. We have done a good job keeping our foot in the door."

If the agreement is approved, Affiniti will pay the NFBA a $15,000 a month "Rights Fee," however, "Affiniti shall be entitled to receive and retain all revenues generated by the Business [NFBA]." Affiniti may also be
responsible for paying the NFBA 1% of its gross annual revenues.

How much is the NFBA debt?

Board Chair and Jefferson County Clerk, Kirk Reams, looked troubled the whole meeting.

The NFBA has been paying two accountants since last August. While it has never been clear what the NFBA Finance Director Donald Schleicher does for $115,000 a year, one thing Mr. Schleicher always did was read the finance reports prepared by the NFBA's accounting firm, Purvis Gray, at the NFBA meetings. The reason originally stated for hiring Mr. Schleicher was he could do the work of Purvis Gray. He didn't.

Yesterday's meeting agenda removed both Mr. Schleicher's finance report and the Project Manager's engineering report from the agenda.

The Observer asked why this was done. The question was never answered.

Purvis Gray's financial statement was distributed and dated July 31. It was clear that neither Board Chairman Reams nor General Manager Sucara wanted to risk any board member asking questions if the statement was formally presented. General Manager Sucara is an accountant.

The NFBA debt appears to be around $3 million.

NFBA General Counsel, Jennifer Springfield, told the Board that the North Florida Broadband Authority is not responsible for any debt, "but that doesn't mean someone could try [to collect it]."

If the deal goes through, what are Affiniti's Plans?

It was brought out that Affiniti's prime goal is to hook up anchor institutions, i.e., schools, hospitals, and public safety sector institutions, which was the goal of the NFBA's middle mile network.

Affiniti, using its Obama stimulus paid for wireless network, will be in direct competition with the private sector.

It is not required to hire any of the four employees of the NFBA.

So far, Affiniti is not required to reach out into the countryside and hook up the unserved and underserved to the network, one of the primary reasons eight counties and one city pulled out of the NFBA.

The NFBA grant was a middle mile grant and was not awarded to hook up those in the countryside. Mainstreet Broadband tried that and with 6,000 customers couldn't repay its stimulus funded RUS loan.

There is also expected to be an issue with some of the leases with municipalities, which gave the NFBA rent free leases.

Yesterday was the last day of the grant
More of the same to the last minute

As the meeting concluded, the NFBA Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding and a yet unseen agreement that made Affiniti a sub-recipient of the grant. When Board Chair Kirk Reams suggested the rest of the Board receive a copy of the draft agreement and take some time to look through it he was immediately shut down by General Manager Sucara. With no grant money left and debts piled high, it might have lent some clarity to the situation if the Board knew what it was approving. The remaining Board members didn't want to know apparently and didn't think it made a difference.


Most of the NFBA's $30,000,000 Obama dollars was squandered on high fees; inside deals; super high salaries and fees for its employees and some vendors.

Whistle blowers came forward and were squashed, as is usual in the Obama administration.

Under the oversight of the incompetent NTIA and what is left of the NFBA Board, the public and the Board itself, has been kept in the dark since the departure of GSG in 2011. The financial draws from the Federal Government have been kept under lock and key and unavailable through the NFBA's Sucara and what is left of the NFBA Board isn't telling anybody what they know, if anything.

The train wreck of the NFBA will be a continuing story, when next Wednesday the Board will meet in Lake City to approve the final deal.

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