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Connected company used its muscle to seek advantage in broadband contact

In 2009, with more than a quarter of all Floridians without broadband access to the Internet at home, state officials lined up to get some of the $7 billion in federal stimulus money to finance state-based programs to increase access.

Enter Connected Nation, a little known but well connected Washington-based company. It won the Florida contract to use $2.5 million to map the broadband gaps for use by policy makers and telecommunications companies.

A year later, when the state won a second grant for $6.3 million to extend the broadband efforts, Connected Nation, a non-profit company, believed it had signed up to be part of a public-private partnership with the state that entitled the firm to a no-bid shot at that money too. But the Department of Management Services, the state agency that housed the project, disagreed.

DMS said the grant requires it to use some of the money to pay for three more years of broadband mapping and the rest to expand broadband access in libraries and schools. DMS hired eight contract employees to handle administration and provide services, paying them between $72,000 and $140,000 a year until the grant ends in 2014, and defended it as an efficient use of state funds.

That began a bitter feud between Connected Nation and DMS, an agency with a lengthy history of distrust among state budget leaders. In an audacious display of lobbying clout, Connected Nation got the Legislature to force DMS off the contract and steer the second grant to the firm.

Now, the broadband mapping contract negotiations are behind schedule; the federal government has warned the state that it could lose what’s left of the grant and Florida’s broadband expansion efforts lag behind many other states.

“It’s distracted and kept us from doing as much as we might have done,’’ said Bill Price, director of Broadband Services for the state. Story here.

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