At the Dec. 10 meeting of the Lafayette County Board of County Commissioners, the board voted not to continue as a member of the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA), citing lack of information received from the NFBA.
Lafayette County joins four others in withdrawing. "At the last meeting you (the board) tabled it and I keep getting calls from their attorney and some of their board members wanting to know what you all are going to do," said County Clerk Ricky Lyons. Prior to the vote, commissioner Jack Byrd asked Sheriff Brian Lamb for his opinion. "Personally, as a sheriff, originally we were told it was going to do with public safety. I haven't heard anything else and it's been going on for a while,” said Lamb.
When asked by the board if it would make a difference to the sheriff's office whether they dropped out or not, Lamb said, "It doesn't make any difference to me."
By withdrawing from the NFBA it doesn’t mean there is no coverage, Richelle Sucara, executive director of the NFBA stated, it just means they don’t have a voice in the organization. According to the NFBA, they are a government entity established for the purpose of bringing broadband services to the North Florida region, and they operate much like independent water, sewer and electrical utilities, in order to provide high-speed broadband access.
Their purpose is to promote economic development and as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, they were awarded $30,142,676 to make the project happen. They were initially funded with a grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration and 20 member counties and municipalities each contributed in-kind assets, including the use of existing towers and other infrastructure. Using grant money, two data centers were established and four distribution hubs were placed in the NFBA region. A reliable, cost-efficient wireless network distributes the service across the region.
Progress regressed last fall when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Acquisition and Grants (NOAA) suspended funding to the NFBA due to allegations of waste in the project. The Government Services Group and Capitol Solutions, two private companies who were contracted for the NFBA, resigned last October.
GSG remained onboard to assist the NFBA during its reorganization. They submitted a plan of corrective action and awaited the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to restore the project’s funding.
Counties projected to be served by the NFBA included Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Putnam, Suwannee, Taylor, Union and Wakulla.
DirectCONNECT is NFBA’s new high-speed broadband service specifically for community anchor institutions, including schools and libraries, hospitals and clinics, and government and emergency service providers. Most residential and business users would purchase high-speed service from NFBA’s retail partner, Suwannee Valley Internet Corporation of Chiefland.
Reporter Bryant Thigpen contributed to this story.