10/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Florida Awards Stimulus Contract to High Bidder -- Connected Nation

Imagine a state is going through a bidding process for a contract. It happens all the time. The factors that normally are taken into account are price, experience, that type of thing. Under normal circumstances, then, a bid with a high price and no experience in a given state might well lose to another bid with a lower price and lots of experience in a state.

Unless, of course, the high bidder with no experience is Connected Nation. Connected Nation is the phone company front group that thrives on the political power of its sponsors to win contracts.

As the Florida Department of Management Services showed last month, yet again, all bets are off when CN is in the game. Last month, the state agency awarded the state contract for broadband mapping to Connect Florida, the newly established affiliate of Connected Nation. According to the Florida agency, Connected Nation's project cost will be around $7.1 million. On the other hand, the cost submitted by the second-place bidder, ISC of Tallahassee was half that - around $2.8 million.

In the section of the bid asking for references, Connected Nation included recommendations for Connect Minnesota, from Diane Wells of the Minn. Department of Commerce, who has worked with the Connect organization there for less than one year, as well as from state officials in Ohio and Tennessee, each of which is less than two years of working with the Connect affiliate in those states. None is for the nascent, on-paper organization Connect Florida

By contrast, the ISC application listed references from the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Department of Agriculture and two local businesses, including an Economic Development Council. The ISC application also listed 11 contracts the company has with Florida state agencies. By contrast, the Connect Florida application listed the various Connect operations in other states. Those out-of-state contracts evidently impressed the contract reviewers, who graded Connect Florida higher than ISC, although ISC won on price.

There were other curiosities with the Connect Florida approval which showed up in the award document the Florida department published. One page of the Florida award document contains a detailed budget table for Connected Nation that had not been submitted with CN's bid. Another part of the state document refers to the fact that the state budget "has been informed by CN and their historical costs incurred on similar mapping projects." The question, then, is whether CN supplied information to the state outside of that contained in the official bid, and to what use that information was used.

In addition, the judges' scoring of the two groups, CN and ISC, also raises some questions. According to sources, one of the five judges gave ISC the win, with an eight-point differential over CN. Two other judges gave CN a two-point win. One other judge gave CN a 15-point win over ISC. Yet in another curiosity, one judge gave CN a 51-point win. That judge was Bill Price, currently the broadband stimulus program manager for the state of Florida, a position he has held for the past three months. According to his profile on the Linked-In social networking site, Price was vice president for business development for BellSouth Business. He was with the phone company for six years, from 1995-2001, also worked at Sprint. Price is also listed as the vice president of business development for STM360, a Massachusetts company. The phone number listed on the STM360 Web site has been disconnected.

The Florida Department of Management Services did not comment on the bid because the award is under protest. Yet another company, Sanborn is protesting because their bid was thrown out as non-responsive.

ISC Managing Partner Edwin Lott said in an e-mailed statement:

"Florida's small businesses are working harder than ever to survive in this challenging economy. ISC, like other small businesses around the country, have had our hopes raised with Congress's efforts to stimulate the economy with the Reinvestment Act and other initiatives. It originally appeared these initiatives were going to provide regional funding to sustain and promote jobs in the communities served by local and state governments.

"Our raised hopes were dashed as Connected Nation appeared to use its 'connections' in Florida to ensure its success in what was supposed to be a competitive procurement.

"The Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) issued an RFP for Broadband Mapping. ISC submitted a bid, but was ranked second to Connected Nation when DMS published an Intent to Award. ISC found miscalculations in the scoring of the bid as well as other discrepancies with the procurement, and brought them to the attention of DMS. At this point, DMS has not acknowledged these discrepancies, or resolve them."

The Florida award could prove to be another stumbling block for Connected Nation. Recently, the Kentucky cable association voted not to support CN's bid to be that state's broadband mapping contractor.

Even so, the telephone companies retain their lobbying power at all levels of government. Recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) caved to industry demands to weaken the high-speed Internet data that would be collected for the maps.