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Connected Nation Buys Off Florida Challenger

October 8, 2009 ,

Connected Nation, the big-telecom and cable front group, has won a lucrative broadband mapping contract in Florida by buying off the company that protested CN getting the contract.

When we last left Connected Nation near the end of August, the big-telecom and cable front group had won a big contract for the state of Florida, despite submitting the high bid while beating a bid half as expensive from a company based in Florida which did considerable business with the state.

That decision, issued in August by the Florida Dept. of Management Services (DMS), was challenged by The Sanborn Map Company, a Colorado Springs-based company that had its bid thrown out as non-responsive to the Request for Proposal before, and so was not scored by the state for a possible award as one of the final six bids considered. Sanborn, in its letter filed in August, gave five reasons why its proposal should have been considered. Other companies, such as ISC from Tallahassee, which ranked second to Connected Nation in the scoring awards, didn’t file a protest.

On October 2, with the blessing of DMS, Sanborn dropped its challenge, and now we know why – Connected Nation used some of its high-bid money to clear the way by cutting Sanborn in on the action. According to the settlement agreement signed Oct. 1 and filed the next day, Connected Nation, Sanborn and the state of Florida officially gave Sanborn status as a subcontractor for the broadband mapping project.

Under the deal, Connected Nation will contract with Sanborn “for no less than 40% and no more than 50% of $1,896,565 over a two-year period which represents the anticipated grant award for technical mapping.” The final percentage will be based on how much work Sanborn does in comparison to the total project. That means that a company which wasn’t even in the top six got back in the game to the tune of as much as $950,000, while the other five firms which lost to Connected Nation get zip. The Florida contract also as the possibility of a three-year extension, in which Sanborn would not participate.

Under the terms of the agreement, Connected Nation, which, according to the state has a “longstanding relationship with providers across the nation,” will manage the “initial engagement” of collecting the information while Sanborn will do the follow-up field-based collection from providers which don’t have information readily available, counting and evaluation wireless towers and finding publicly available data sets. Sanborn will also validate some randomly selected data collected by Connected Nation and do the Geographic Information System (GIS) processing.

Also in the southeast region, the state of Georgia appears to be trying to find a way to cut Connected Nation in on the mapping action despite a strong bid from Georgia Tech. It’s possible that state officials will try to split the contract among the two, with perhaps a third company involved as well.

Louisiana, meanwhile, awarded its contract to Michael Baker, Jr., a Baton Rouge company, bypassing, among others, Connected Nation and six other bidders. Baker, a company with broadband mapping experience across the country, bid about $1.1 million for the stimulus mapping project. Connected Nation’s bid was almost $1.9 million for the project awarded in late September.

Good News and Bad News From the Feds

At the Federal level, there was good news in that first mapping grants went to states that did not use Connected Nation as a subcontractor. North Carolina, which has seen its homegrown e-NC authority undercut by state officials under the influence of AT&T, was one of those awarded a grant, receiving about $2 million.

On a more worrisome front, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), issued a procedure for a protective order for all of that top secret telecom company data that will come in as the Commission evaluates broadband facilities as part of the National Broadband Plan. Some of items the Commission wants to protect, “the location, type, and cost of last-mile infrastructure,” is of course exactly the kind of information consumers would also like to see and which would make a broadband map particularly useful – especially the first two. The order was issued as part of a Commission proceeding on middle mile deployment, and isn't part of the mapping docket.

However, access to such data now will be heavily restricted so that the big telecom and cable companies will play along. As with the NTIA decision not to require data speeds to be reported as part of the mapping project, it’s disappointing that the FCC could apparently allow the carriers to again get away with keeping secret the information that would be most helpful.