Cities dropping out of north Florida broadband project

Some Florida cities are dropping out of the North Florida Broadband Authority citing concerns over the projects debt load and questions about its deployment timeline. The Authority was investigated by federal broadband officials last year over the same types of issues. The city council of Perry, Florida voted to end its involvement in the project. Bradford, Florida also pulled out of the effort after a similar vote last week.

In 2009, the North Florida Broadband Authority was established to bring high speed internet access to the rural areas of Northern Florida. The Authority was funded through $30,000,000 in stimulus money. Since then, the project has had little to show for where that money has gone and rural residents still lack access or have gone to private sector providers.

On April 10, the Perry City Council took up the issue of its involvement in the Authority, according to an account in the Columbia County Observer, City Manager Bob Brown said that the county seat originally got involved in the project because it claimed that it would provide near free internet access. Now, over a year and $10 million later the project has nothing deployed and the city has access through a variety of private providers.

As CivSource reported last year, the project was investigated for its lack of deployment and clear accounting of time and budget. City officials in both Perry and Bradford note that while the project was allowed to resume by federal authorities, there are still enough questions about when the project will actually start providing service that they are getting out.

According to Brown, “They are kind of a dysfunctional organization. They pay a lot of high salaries. For example, their executive director makes $150,000 a year and is asking for some enhancements to that.”

In another Columbia County Observer account, Bradford city officials left the project noting that the grant funding requires municipalities to provide partial matching funds for the work in their area. City officials are concerned about providing funds to an organization that has already been investigated and often acts without the advice of legal counsel.

The Authority says that they will be able to start providing access in January of 2013, as long as everything goes according to the current plan. The Authority is working with technology companies Level 3 and Calix to complete the work.