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Columbia County pulls out of NFBA GON

November 15, 2012

We have reported several times before on the North Florida Broadband Authority, a government-owned network in which several cities and towns were to participate. According to the online newspaper the Columbia County Observer, in early November another participant pulled out of the network, which was to be completed by the end of this year and is no where near finished.

On Nov. 1, Columbia County commissioners voted unanimously to withdraw from the Authority citing unmet goals, an unwillingness to provide basic information, and taxpayer expense. Candidates for the commission also opposed the county’s participation in the network. County Commission candidate Mike Gordon said, “The goal posts keep getting moved” and noted the Authority was full of promises but “short on delivery.”

The commissioner that sponsored the resolution to withdraw, Stephen Bailey, said North Florida Broadband Authority managers had not responded to the county’s request for information about allegations of wrongdoing. Bailey said, “They tell us they’re not true, but they are unwilling to provide us with any data.” According to the Observer, Bailey also explained that with the exception of bill records Columbia County had not “received any of the information that it has requested from the NFBA through a recent public records request.”

Several commissioners cited the NFBA’s unwillingness to be forthcoming with the county as one of their main reasons for their vote.

Bailey was also worried the network would ever reach solvency. According to Bailey, in addition to ignoring the public records request, the Authority had not provided the county with any operational plan or information “showing how it would be financially solvent at the conclusion of the grant period [January 31, 2013].”

Imagine how shareholders would respond to a private company that was as secretive.

Despite not abiding by the same transparency standards private companies are expected to, NFBA competed against the private sector. According to Bailey, the commission had been promised the network would not do this, but that promise was not kept. Commissioner Jody DuPree said, “The trouble with that is we now have the government competing with the private sector… That is not a good place to be.”

Finally, commissioners cited the opportunity costs associated with the network. County Commissioner Rusty DePratter said, “This is a tragedy of wasted money that could have gone to a good cause, and the only thing I can see is mismanagement.” Commissioner Bailey agreed.

In conclusion, the Observer noted the NFBA is still under investigation by the federal government so “this story is not over yet.”

We’ll keep you up to date on any further developments.