"Florida Rural Broadband Alliance, LLC (FRBA) is a regional collaboration of local governments, community activists and economic development agencies from rural and economically disadvantaged communities located throughout 15 counties within Florida's Northwest Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (NWRACEC) and the South Central Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (SCRACEC)," reads the website for FRBA.
It continues, "The FRBA project will build a new Middle Mile broadband infrastructure, which will link together providers of vital public sector commercial services with private sector non-profit entities for the first time in these two struggling regions of Florida. At this time, only 39 percent of the FRBA region has broadband service. ...At the end of the 3-year build out period, FRBA's project will deliver up to 1,000 times the existing capacity within the coverage area. Doing so will create jobs."
FRBA received a $24 million dollar BTOP broadband stimulus grant in 2010. [Details about the grant are in this case study and on the NTIA site.]Unfortuantely, three years later there isn't anything but lawsuits, federal investigations and accusations.
The investigation into FRBA started in September of 2011. The Columbia County Observer has been steadily reporting on the problem. The real problem: that these rural counties didn't get broadband due to problems large enough to bring the NTIA in and halt payments. This action only precipitated some of the engineering firms to not get paid. One of those firms, Rapid Systems, has been in a court battle with FRBA.
I don't have all these details yet but FRBA, the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) and the GSG, a management firm employed by both authorities were mixed up in the whole grant mess. The Ripoff Report has some serious allegations and isn't far off from the what I have heard. Somewhere along the way $30M was spent by the NFBA - but no paying customers are on that middle mile network that is not completed. Full disclosure: I have consulted with Rapid Systems, the GSG and the NFBA in the past.
It will be something I keep my eye on. When the BTOP and BIP programs were launched, many figured the money would not be as productive as the government hoped. These aren't shovel ready projects. They took time to hand out, spin up, and get moving -- but by then how much of the money actually built anything? There is waste and fraud in every billion dollar program. At least this one was investigated early and clamped down on.