Perry, Fla. drops out of North Florida Broadband Authority

Another domino fell in the planned middle mile network chain that is the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) as the City of Perry, Fla. voted Tuesday to withdraw from the organization, citing the authority's lack of action as well as the availability of broadband to the city through multiple wireline and wireless service providers, according to a report in the Columbia County Observer.

The city council's vote comes just a week after nearby Bradford County, Fla.'s council voted to terminate its membership in the NFBA.

Perry City Manager Bob Brown told the council that the NFBA has spent "about $10 million or more" of the $30 million in BTOP funding it received to build a network of towers to provide broadband wireless service to the north central Florida region, but "they don't have anything up to serve one customer, anywhere."

Brown added that broadband is already available in "100 percent of the City...from multiple providers." Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) offers bundled Internet, video and phone service in the city. Satellite provider HughesNet sells Internet services in the area, and BroadbandBLUE offers fixed wireless broadband service.

The city's withdrawal from the NFBA, along with Bradford County's pullout, signal a growing frustration among local participants that the broadband stimulus buildout is not progressing well.

NFBA's funding was suspended last September after allegations were made that a conflict of interest existed between two private companies supervising the buildout: the manager of Government Services Group, Robert Sheets, and the grant administrator, Capital Solutions.

To correct the situation, both GSG and Capital Solutions resigned from the authority. The NFBA appointed Richelle Sucara as general manager and switched project oversight to Jacobs Project Management and Engineering.

In March, the Suwannee Democrat reported that the NFBA would complete its core network by the end of the month and would be connecting customers soon after. According to Stew Lilker, publisher of the Observer, one beta customer was connected to the network on March 27. FierceTelecom is working to confirm whether more customers have been connected since then.

Update: Donny Lort, senior project manager for the NFBA, told FierceTelecom that the middle mile network build is about 70 percent built out and is on track to be completed at the end of April. He confirmed that one beta customer, Palms Medical Group in Branford, Fla., is currently connected, and that the NFBA is working with four last mile providers to start connecting customers at its fiber access points.

The withdrawal of Perry and Bradford County from the organization would not affect the network build, he said. "It's not going to affect our plans. We're on commercial towers, and we'll still go through those areas [Perry and Bradford County]. ...We only lose the local town and county buildings," Lort said, adding that the NFBA has a strong relationship with area healthcare providers and NEFEC (North East Florida Educational Consortium).

For more:
- the Columbia County Observer has this article
- the Suwannee Democrat has this update

Special Report: Broadband stimulus scandals: Missteps in the buildout, and what's at stake

Related articles:
Report: Bradford County withdraws from North Florida Broadband Authority
North Florida Broadband Authority gets back on track with middle mile network build