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Florida provider Rapid Systems Inc. sues FRBA for $25 million, alleging fraud, misconduct

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A Tampa-based telecommunications equipment provider, Rapid Systems Inc., filed suit against the Florida Rural Broadband Association after being terminated from an agreement to install and maintain equipment on a rural wireless broadband network, claiming that the FRBA conspired to cut them out of the project. RSI is asking for $25 million in damages.

FRBA received a $23.7 million federal BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) grant in 2010 to install and operate a wireless broadband network in northwest Florida, including Hardee County.

According to the complaint, RSI installed roughly $2 million of equipment on and operated the Hardee County Broadband Network, in what it characterized as an "in-kind contribution" listed as part of BTOP's requirement for matching funds on the public-private partnership project. But in January 2013, the FRBA terminated a contract with RSI and put a lien on the equipment and towers, in a move to "hijack" the network without paying RSI for its services.

Things get murky in the complaint filing, as they typically do. RSI named a number of parties in its suit, including nonprofits, consulting firms, and several individuals, and grouping various parties together as "conspirators." The company alleges that fraud, conspiracy, "self-dealing and double dipping" and a number of other issues took place.

Whether the company knew that it was being represented as both an in-kind contributor and a contractor is also not entirely clear in the suit. RSI told the Columbia County Observer that it donated about $2 million in cash, equipment and services to the project.

The FRBA is cousin to the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA), which last year faced allegations of fraud and misuse of NOAA funds in its $30 million middle-mile rural broadband project. That organization had its funding suspended and later reinstated in March 2012, but not until after several counties dropped out of the project. Interestingly, a consulting firm named in the RSI lawsuit, GSG, played a role in the NFBA funds suspension due to a conflict of interest. GSG is no longer directly involved with either broadband project.

RSI also installed equipment on the NFBA's system, but its involvement was based on a competitive procurement process.

Neither RSI nor the FRBA had responded to requests for comment by press time.

For more:
- the Columbia County Observer has this article

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